Healthy Aging Month: Getting Older Isn’t For Sissies

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“Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” – Mae West

It can be easy to lose sight of the adventure and joy that the journey of aging entails. The aging process – while a seemingly endless barrel of jokes for birthday card companies – is replete with experiences that allow for deeper reflection, the pursuit of personal hobbies, and a expanded perspective.

In 2020, 21.6% of Virginians were at least 60 years old, and this percentage is expected to rise to 24% by 2030. It is more important than ever to share empowering resources that support this growing population as it ages in the life she worked diligently to build. While successful aging will be slightly different for each individual, the general idea is to age in a way that enables well-being in old age. This tactic requires thoughtful decisions about how to treat one’s body, mind, time, etc. In celebration of Healthy Aging Month, the following tips and resources are great reminders on how to live life to the fullest.

The “3 F” rule: fitness, food, fun

Food

Taking note of the foods we eat and how they interact with our changing bodies is a big step towards healthy aging. For more energy, increase the number of servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Whole grains are a better choice than processed carbs for adding fiber and vitamins to your meals. For the best protein options, choose lean meat, nuts, or beans.

It’s no secret that the nutritional needs of the body change over time. Along with making healthy food choices, it’s important to know the best steps to take to satisfy hunger and cravings.

  • When you are hungry, first take some water and drink slowly while thinking about what you have eaten so far today. Thirst and hunger are deeply connected and can often be confused. Still hungry after a few slow sips? It’s time to find a snack!
  • Craving a sweet treat after a salty meal? Ask yourself if you really want to something more or just expect it out of habit. Remember, everything in moderation, and even dessert doesn’t need to be eliminated. Just notice if your body has room for anything else. If you’re really hungry, ask yourself if there are any alternatives that might satisfy you without pushing you into that “overfilled” state (i.e. red grapes, a ginger chew, or a cup of herbal / fruity tea).

Aptitude

Although physical activity is important at all stages of life, it becomes even more so with age. Exercise conditions the body’s cardiovascular system, aids digestion, and maintains muscle strength for daily tasks (like dressing, walking, cooking, etc.).

Health research has traditionally focused on the physical benefits of exercise on aging; However, more recently, public health and medicine have taken a deeper look at the psychological body-brain connection impacted by exercise. The mental health benefits of regular exercise include stress management, improved sleep quality, and an increased sense of well-being. If you haven’t found a physical activity that you enjoy and can continue over time, now is your chance to start exploring. From indoor swimming (available all year round) to plogging – a combination of jogging and scavenging – there are a plethora of fun ways to get moving. You can even consider physical activities that can be incorporated into daily life, such as walking or cycling to work, gardening, or even adding dance moves while doing household chores.

Fun

Keeping the body healthy is certainly worth it, but the impact of social connections and activities on the brain is just as important. Choose activities that challenge the mind, such as learning new dance moves, playing a new game (card, board, or recreational) or picking up a new hobby. Community and social involvement, through friendships, partnerships, community service or participation in local organizations, is another important aspect to consider when looking to maintain optimal mental and physical function throughout life. Finding ways to weave engagement with the world around you, play, and novelty (i.e. learning something new) into each day pays dividends. Cognitive engagement not only fends off diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but it also increases interest in life and decreases loneliness and depression.

All together now

Keep in mind that the 3 “F’s” work together. It can be even more beneficial to find interesting ways to combine them. For example, walk to work with a friend while sharing something new you learned this week; or see if certain ingredients can be replaced with healthier options while trying a new recipe or cooking technique.

Ultimately, remember that healthy aging is about wellness. Keep the “3 Fs” rule in mind and surround yourself with things that create happiness, growth, and fulfillment in your life. Until next Healthy Aging Month, be well.

References

Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in life and positive health outcomes in older adults. People’s Health Management 2018 Apr;21(2):139-147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063. Published online July 5, 2017. PMID: 28677991; PMC ID: PMC5906725.

Wong RY. A new strategic approach to aging well and aging in good health. Geriatrics (Basel). 2018 Nov 29;3(4):86. doi: 10.3390/geriatrics3040086. PMID: 31011121; PMCID: PMC6371117.

Halaweh H, Dahlin-Ivanoff S, Svantesson U, Willén C. Older people’s perspectives on aging well: a focus group study. J Aging Res. November 4, 2018; 2018: 9858252. doi: 10.1155/2018/9858252. PMID: 30533224; PMCID: PMC6247475.

Superior planning services. Reshaping the food pyramid for seniors. Retrieved 23 July 2022

Senior lifestyles. 7 best exercises for older people (and a few to avoid!). Retrieved 14 July 2022

Parker-Pope, A. How to Age Well. New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2022

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