If aging gracefully is on your to-do list, then healthy aging is where you need to focus.
It’s an all-encompassing endeavour that includes mind, body and spirit.
Getting older can be tricky.
By the time you notice what’s happened, it’s often too late to course correct.
You’re creaky, you’re cranky, and your gray hair is the least of your concerns. You’ve traded your coupé for a Zimmer frame and your condo for a bedsit in an old age home.
Now, imagine if you’d paid closer attention as the years passed. Imagine if you’d taken better care of yourself. Those last two lines would read very differently.
You’re fit and healthy and your gray hair makes you look like a silver fox. You’ve traded your coupé for a pair of hiking boots and your condo for a backpack. You’re thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail!
You could shake your head and say, “Yeah, right.” Or, you could take the tips I’m about to share and make them a part of your daily life.
Personally, I’d opt for the latter.
The Key to Aging Gracefully
There’s more to aging gracefully than what you wear and how you carry yourself. Those things matter, but there’s another aspect to growing older that’s even more important: your health.
By focusing on healthy aging you’ll ensure your body doesn’t slide into decrepitude. Getting out of bed in the morning will be something you look forward to. Sound too good to be true?
It’s not. More and more people are aging with intent. Check out these badass older hikers or these inspiring athletes in the 60+ age category. To these folks, age is a number, not a reason to stop living.
Disclaimer: Sporty and I are not doctors. We’re a couple of urban hippies who eat a plant-based diet. Outside of Sporty’s obsessive need to research everything, we have no medical training whatsoever.
What follows are guidelines based on what we’ve learnt along our own health journey. Please talk to your GP, shaman, kinesiologist, acupuncturist, herbalist, homeopath, bestie, etc. before applying any of our suggestions
Healthy Aging Means Staying Active
Aging gracefully isn’t just about ditching the leopard print in favour of something more age-appropriate. Nowadays, it’s all about staying active. How that looks for you is your business.
Just so long as it doesn’t involve leopard print.
The most important thing is to make sure you keep moving. Retiring to your armchair with a good book is fine, but only after you’ve done your exercise for the day.
Being active doesn’t only mean half an hour on a stationary bike at the gym. Make movement a part of your daily life by walking or cycling instead of driving, working in the garden and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
There are so many ways for us to be more active on a daily basis, we just need to be on the lookout for opportunities. It could even be something as simple as parking in the furthest spot from the entrance to the mall.
Make sure you mix things up by focusing on these three key areas outlined below. When you do your body will operate like the well-oiled machine it was designed to be.
Stretching plays a crucial role in ensuring our body stays supple as we get older. Most of us spend our days sitting. We drive to and from work, we sit at our desk all day and then we hang out on the couch in the evening.
The older we get, the more reluctant our muscles are to fully extend. Left unattended, they’ll eventually lock into the right angles formed by our chairs.
This is no exaggeration. For the last decade of his life, my father literally couldn’t straighten his leg. After having his one leg amputated he lost the will to do anything other than sit in his wheelchair.
Yoga is an excellent way of limbering up, Recently, Sporty and I came across Bre and Flo’s yoga channel on YouTube. These two have put so much work into providing yoga classes for all levels, from beginner to advanced.
Take a look around their channel and see if you can find something that speaks to your capabilities. Of course, if you have the chance to take an in-person class a couple of times a week, go for it.
Sporty and I love running. Weirdly, a lot of people view it as cruel and unusual punishment. If that’s you, then try walking or hiking or riding a bike instead.
Another option is to do one of the many steps workouts available online. We’ve tried a bunch of them and Keoni from Reps to the Rythmn is hands down our favourite.
His music is great, the steps are super easy to master and best of all, he doesn’t talk during the videos. If you like having someone encourage you throughout the workout, you may want to search for something else.
Along with burning fat, cardio training assists lung function, increases circulation and strengthens the heart. Plus, it makes you feel really good. There’s just something about breaking a sweat that’s really invigorating.
3. Strength Training
As we get older we lose muscle mass, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it as part of the aging process. By focusing on things like diet and exercise we can help prevent age related muscle loss.
I used to think Pilates was a complete yawn (I’m an endorphin junkie), but then I spent a week on a juice fast retreat a few years ago. Now, I’m an evangelist.
Unfortunately, when our gym closed at the beginning of lockdown we had to figure out another way to get our strength training in. After a little searching I came across 1 Workout a Day. June posts new videos daily and she really mixes things up.
A lot of her workouts are body weight-based, whch means you don’t need any equipment. However, since we love her approach to exercise we decided to invest in some exercise bands and 5kg dumbbells.
Healthy Aging Means Staying Trim
The heavier you are, the bigger the strain on your joints, your internal organs and your digestive system. Your body has to work that much harder to keep you going and sooner or later something’s going to give.
By maintaining an optimal weight you’re allowing your body to focus on staying healthy, without the added pressure of having to cope with inflamed joints, clogged arteries and a dicky colon.
Sporty and I eat a plant-based diet, but we get that it’s not for everyone. Simply ditching the processed junk and eating more whole foods will go a long way to a healthier, trimmer you.
Make a point of informing yourself about where your food comes from and what it’s made of as well. Don’t just believe what they tell you on the front of a package, learn to decipher the label on the back.
Make your own food more. Yes, grabbing takeout during lunch or after work is quick and easy, especially when you’re busy, but it’s not doing your body or your budget any favours.
I love making food, but even I’m not always in the mood to be in the kitchen. The way around this is to find meals that are easy to make, nutritious and yummy. The Happy Pear and Vegan Richa are two of my current faves.
Healthy Aging Means Staying Aware
Age is sneaky. When you’re young, you’re too busy enjoying life to think about anything further away than the weekend. As you get older, work and family life carry you along.
Everything is fine until you wake up one morning and notice that your body feels different. It’s a little slower than usual, maybe a little more stiff, too. You rack your brain trying to remember when that started.
Was it yesterday, last month, last year? For the life of you, you cannot remember when last you felt on top of your game.
The first step to aging gracefully is to pay attention. When you’re aware of what’s going on in your life (physically, mentally, emotionally), you’re better equipped to deal with problems as they arise or avoid them entirely.
It takes work, but when you consider what will happen if you don’t make the effort, I think you’ll agree that the rewards are worth it.
We have a few retirement homes in our area and we often see the residents shuffling along with a nurse at their side or worse, being pushed in a wheelchair.
Perhaps there were circumstances beyond their control that led them to that point, but wouldn’t you rather give yourself every chance to live to 100 and still be of sound mind and body?
At least then you could say you did your best. On the other hand, imagine knowing you could have prevented the predicament you find yourself in if you’d lived a healthier and more active lifestyle.
Healthy Aging Means Staying Sharp
Our brains need exercise just as much as our bodies do. Between Google and the advent of Smartphones, we’re becoming lazier and lazier. Everything is a click away, so there’s no need to remember anything.
I can remember all my childhood friends’ phone numbers (1980s) and yet I still struggle to commit Sporty’s cell number to memory.
We need to find other ways to keep the gray matter sharp. Playing chess, doing puzzles and reading are all great.
Now in her early eighties, Sporty’s Mom spends her days playing chess and surfing the Internet to learn new stuff. She’s sharper than a lot of people half her age.
Stay abreast of technology (don’t be ‘that’ old person with the feature phone), use an online tool like Lumosity to challenge your brain and try to learn something new everyday.
Healthy Aging Means Staying Positive
Maintaining a positive outlook is important at any age, but I think it’s even more imperative the older you get. Studies have shown that positive people are healthier and let’s face it, as the years tick by we can use all the help we can get.
We all have low days when something (or someone) gets to us, that’s understandable. But nobody wants to hang out with a Debbie Downer. If you’re the kind of person who is always complaining or finding fault, people won’t want to be around you.
Years ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague. And by conversation I mean I was moaning about something (again). Mid-rant he suddenly looked at me and said, “Do you ever stop complaining?”
I was so shocked that I instantly shut up. Can you imagine how fed up he must have been to have said that? I still haven’t managed to complete Will Bowen’s Complaint-Free Living Challenge, but I’m definitely a lot more positive now than I used to be.
Part of maintaining a positive outlook on life is watching what you let into your consciousness. Between social media, 24/7 news channels and a multitude of newspapers, it’s easy to become disheartened by the state of the world.
The best way around this is to put yourself on a news fast. Sporty and I avoid the news completely: we don’t watch TV, we don’t read the newspaper or listen to the radio and we don’t follow anyone negative online.
And yet, in spite of this militant approach, we’re still well informed. News has a way of finding its way to you when it’s important, you don’t need to go looking for it.
The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. ― Albert Einstein
Healthy Aging Means Staying Young at Heart
Thanks to her job as a visual effects and animation producer, Sporty gets to spend a lot of time with young creatives. She says being around people who are so much younger than her has had a positive impact on her life.
While I’ve never wanted kids of my own, I do enjoy being around them. Children remind us to not take ourselves so seriously. They’re not afraid to express how they feel.
They’re honest, they laugh a lot and they’re genuinely enthusiastic about life. These are all qualities we need to take with us into adulthood and old age. Too often, however, we tend to leave them behind.
Our neighbours’ little girl is a budding philanthropist and singer. Whenever we see her she’s either belting out a tune or eager to tell us about her latest charity project. We can’t help but smile when she’s around.
Why not be the reason someone smiles today. It beats being grumpy and it’ll make people want to be around you instead of running for cover when they see you.
The Blue Zones
There are seven regions in the world where people routinely live to 100 or more. Known as the Blue Zones, these longevity hot-spots are classified by their inhabitants’ ability to live longer than anyone else in the world.
Dan Buettner, author the the New York Times bestseller, Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, discovered that the people living in these regions (Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California, etc.) all share nine common traits.
Among other things, they’re active, they have a sense of purpose, and they eat more plant-based foods. I was pleased to note that they also enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day.
The Blue Zones website has a bunch of longevity resources, including healthy recipes from all seven regions, articles and more. If you want to learn more check out Dan’s TED talk: How to live to be 100+ and then head over to the website for some aging inspiration.
Must Read Books
In 1955, at the age of 67, Grandma Gatewood became the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian Trail in one go. She took to the woods in a pair of Keds and a homemade denim bag stuffed with an army blanket and a raincoat. Hers remains one of our favourite biographies.
Olga Kotelko was a Canadian track and field athlete who competed until shortly before her death in 2014. She was ninety-five-years-old. The book offers a fascinating look at not only how we age nowadays, but the extent to which we can shape the process.
Not On the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence
In a series of undercover investigations, Felicity Lawrence provides a shocking account of what really goes into the food we eat. From discovering why beef waste ends up in chicken and why bread is full of water to delving deeper into the UK’s 2013 horse meat scandal, she’s lays it out in full view.
Hear your body Whisper by Otakara Klettke
If you’re interested in learning to communicate with your body I highly recommend the book. It’s a little on the ‘hippie’ side of things, so you need to keep an open mind. However, the advice it offers is practical, accessible and relatively easy to take onboard. I wrote a post about why you should listen to your body shortly after reading it.
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
A recovering alcoholic and junk food addict, Rich Roll turned his life around at the age of 39. Now 53 years old, he’s leaner, faster and in better shape than most guys in their twenties. Rich is one of many plant-based athletes busting the protein myth.