Healthy Living- Healthy Aging
There are many changes that naturally occur with aging that include:
1. Physical Changes
i. Cardio Vascular System: While the heart muscle gets weaker as we age, blood vessels also become more rigid, and constricted, making the heart work harder and the system less efficient. This leads to higher blood pressure and many different areas of heart disease.
ii. Musculoskeletal System:
a. Osteoporosis (bone weakness) Minerals are excessively reabsorbed from bones, making them weaker and more vulnerable to breaks. Falls are a very real risk for seniors, a resulting fracture can be the start of a rapid decline in health and function
b. Sarcopenia (muscle thinning) is perhaps even more important than osteoporosis, but less well known (as no expensive drugs treat it). Muscles deteriorate at a rate of approx. 3-8% each decade as a result of time of disuse (not age). This process usually starts after 30 years of age. Muscle weakness in turn correlates with poor balance and increased falling.
iii. Flexibility – deteriorating cartilage layers and decreased lubrication in joints due to a lack of consistent, frequent full range of motion, cause restricted joints which eventually become painful and arthritic. All joints can be enhanced through appropriate motion.
2. Mental Changes
– a decline in mental function is a very real fear among those in later decades. Your brain it is an organ (like the spleen, heart and liver). It is made up of living tissues that need oxygen, nutrients and the removal of waste products to function well. It is not an inert computer!
• Contrary to popular opinion, playing Sudoku and doing crossword puzzles does little to prevent brain deterioration or increase brain health. It just makes you very good at puzzles!
• Current research shows that exercise plays a critical protective role in cognitive and mental health. Increased blood flow brings necessary nutrients and oxygen to the cells, while removing waste products and preventing the build up of plaques.
• When you exercise, your brain manufactures and releases a protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor). This substance has a regenerative effect on brain tissue stimulating brain cells and dendrite connections to repair and grow. It’s been referred to as ‘Miracle Grow’ for your brain. Physical exercise is the primary contributor to this valuable process.
3. Emotional Health
– depression is very common in seniors and can often be traced to loneliness, chronic illness, life situations, medications, and general loss of previous vitality and relevance.
• emotional health is regulated by neurotransmitters
• neurotransmitters are regulated by exercise. Walking 30min, 2-3 x / day has been shown to dramatically boost mood and normalize brain chemistry. This helps to optimize the actual amounts of neurotransmitters as well as their respective concentrations and ratios. Both of these aspects are essential for emotional health.
4. Disease Processes
– as we age, the likelihood of disease processes such as Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Arthritis, and general system failure increase exponentially. Effective, regular exercise has proven to be a major positive change agent for all conditions.
In our “Developed World” we have made the false assumption that physical effort is to be avoided and that ‘living well’ is living easier. In fact, it is completely the opposite with the easy way fast tracking our demise. Exercise is not a leisure area or optional concept. It is absolutely essential for life and proves as such, as we move to later decades of life.
So……Where do we go from here?
We begin by changing our mindset from seeing ourselves as “vulnerable seniors” (at the mercy of age and a failing system) to celebrating ourselves as “Athletes”.
As long as there’s life, there is hope! Hope means there’s something that can be done. It’s the ‘doing’ that can prove difficult for many, especially by those of us over fifty years of age. We may have not, up till this point, realized the life-giving importance of exercise and as a result have little experience with the process. It is a process. Every successful process requires some planning and inspiration, motivation and direction.
“Inspiration” is being encouraged, triggered, empowered, and stimulated to act and engage in something. Inspiration can be external and often comes from others who bring a new vision or perspective on which to think and build.
“Motivation” is a combination of reasons “why” you do something. It is an internal drive providing the energy and impetuous for action. Motivation has to be ongoing and has a necessary momentum. Motivation is repeatedly fueled by action in the process. Often we wait to be motivated … but it actually comes from doing. “Move and your brain will follow”.
“Direction” is that part of your journey where specific actions and resources are brought to bear on the circumstance. With exercise (especially if you are new to it) receiving insight and guidance from others more experienced or professionally trained in the area can be a huge help.
What can we do?
Our bodies are always changing. Begin by deciding to promote change that leads to better health and function. As we age, there is a tendency to live smaller and safer lives with smaller expectations of ourselves and life in general. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As activities and actions become more difficult, we tend to shy away from doing them until they are avoided all together. This leads to a decreased level of performance and function. If you don’t use it, you will indeed lose it!