If aging gracefully is on your to-do list, then healthy aging is where you need to focus. It’s all-encompassing though, so that means mind, body and spirit.
You see, the thing about getting older is that by the time you notice it’s happened, it’s often too late to do anything about it.
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. Yikes!
Now, imagine if you’d actually paid attention as you’d gotten older. 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!
How cool would that be, right!?
Don’t just nod your head and say, “Yeah, right.”
By focusing on healthy aging you’ll ensure your body doesn’t automatically degenerate into a useless sack of bones that can barely manage to get out of bed in the morning.
*One day I’ll tell you about the marshmallow fish story.
Healthy Aging Means Staying Active
Aging gracefully doesn’t mean making sure your purple rinse hasn’t washed out or only wearing your Sunday best when you go out. Maybe it meant that in some bygone era, but nowadays it’s all about staying active.
Whatever you do, 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.
But don’t just limit your idea of ‘moving’ to half an hour on the stationary bike. You need to mix it up by focusing on these three areas: stretching, cardio and strength training.
Stretching plays an important role in ensuring our bodies stay fit and flexible as we get older. Most of us spend our days on our ass: we drive to and from work, we sit at our desk all day and then we hang out on the couch in the evening to relax.
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.
Yoga is an excellent way of limbering up, so if you’re able to attend a couple of classes each week we highly recommend it. For Sporty and I, money and time constraints have made it prohibitive (at least for now).
In the meantime, we’ve discovered an excellent alternative in GMB Fitness’s Focussed Flexibility Program. I saw this video in my Twitter feed and decided that we should give it a try. I mean, if it helped a 63-year-old guy do the splits then there must be something to it, right?
Focused Flexibility is a completely customizable program for assessing and improving your effective range of motion for greater ease and freedom of movement. There are 15 different routines to choose from e.g. desk jockey, running, splits and full bridge, so there’s lots of variety.
Sporty and I have been focusing on the runner’s routine and have noticed a significant improvement in our performance. Interestingly, this routine has also sorted out a niggly ailment I thought I’d just have to live with.
I was born with a club foot, so my right ankle has always been a little weak. When I exercise a lot I always get a dull ache in and around the ankle area. Or, I used to. Since doing these stretches that dull ache is a thing of the past.
The program is online and updates are free. Plus, if Internet connectivity is an issue, you can also download the videos and tutorials directly to your laptop or iPad and watch them at the gym (or wherever you’re doing the exercises). All you need is a yoga mat and a chair, so you can pretty much do the program anywhere.
Remember, being active doesn’t just mean going to the gym. Make it a part of your daily life by walking or cycling instead of driving, working in the garden (if you have one) 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 them. You could even try something as crazy as parking in the furthest spot from the entrance to the mall. I know, right?!
Sporty and I love running (we’re training for a half-marathon marathon at the moment), but a lot of people view it as cruel and unusual punishment. If that’s you, then try walking or hiking or riding a bike.
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.
As we get older we lose muscle mass, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply accept it as part of the aging process. By focusing on things like diet and exercise we can help prevent age related muscle loss (which isn’t conducive to aging gracefully).
If weight training floats your boat go for it. Sporty and I find the muscle marys at the gym quite intimidating, so we tend to avoid the free weights area.
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 at the end of last year. Now, I’m a Pilates evangelist. It might not give me the same ‘high’ I get from running, but jeez looeez it’s making me strong!
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. Take care of it and it will take care of you, it’s that simple.
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 after a long day at the office. The way around this is to find meals that are easy to make, nutritious and yummy. Minimalist Baker* ticks all those boxes, with hundreds of super delicious recipes.
*Don’t be fooled by the name. Dana covers all the meal bases: breakfast, lunch, dinner, salads, soups, dessert, and snacks.
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 life just kind of ups and carries you along. One minute you’re in college and then next you’re married with kids.
One morning you wake up and notice that your body feels different, it’s a little slower than usual, maybe a little stiffer too. You rack your brain trying to remember when that started. Was it yesterday, last month, last year?
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), then you’re better equipped to either deal with problems as they arise or avoid them entirely.
It takes work, of course it does, 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 old folk shuffling along with a nurse at their side or 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. But imagine knowing you could have prevented the predicament you find yourself in if only you’d lived a healthier more active lifestyle?
Healthy Aging Means Staying Sharp
Our brains need exercise just as much as our bodies do. Between Google and our Smartphone, 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), but when I got a new cell phone number recently it took me a month to memorise it.
We need to find other ways to keep the gray matter sharp. Playing chess, doing puzzles and reading are all great. Sporty’s Mom (who turns 80 this year) spends her days playing chess and surfing the Internet and 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 days where we’re feeling low when something (or someone) got 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 it’s 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
Because of her job as a visual effects and animation producer, Sporty spent 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 genuinely enthusiastic about life. These are all qualities we need to take with us into adulthood and old age.
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. Be the reason someone smiles today.
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. She lives in London, where she’s probably not on any of the big name food producers’ Christmas card lists.
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
Rich is a recovering alcoholic and junk food addict, who turned his life around at the age of 39. Now 50 years old, he’s leaner, faster and in better shape than most guys in their twenties. He’s one of many plant-based athletes busting the protein myth.