Mind-Body, Health & Wellness: Healthy Aging
What are the secrets to a youthful glow, an energetic spirit, and a sharp mind as we age?Â While genetics and our environment play significant roles, our lifestyle choices dictate the quality of our lives and even the onset of disease in older age. Aging is an undeniable part of life. While we canâ€™t deny it, we can prepare our minds and bodies so that we are healthier and happier.Â With this, comes the opportunity to enjoy life and enjoy the company of our loved ones.Â Here are six steps to support you in healthy aging.
Reduce the Stress Response
Stress has immediate impacts like tension, headaches, heartburn, and emotional pain. Our body produces cortisol, the stress hormone, in response to stressful events. Chronic stress results in prolonged production of the stress hormone, which has been linked to a range of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and even osteoporosis. Cortisol is also toxic to the part of our brain that processes memory. As we age, these physical effects become more and more apparent and reduce our ability to live fully. Whatâ€™s a great way to reduce stress? Practice breathing.Â Hereâ€™s how:
â€¢ Lie down or sit with a straight spine, close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and relax your face and body as you breathe out.
â€¢ Continue breathing in and out with even inhalations and exhalations. For example, breathe in for a count of 4, and breathe out for the same count.
â€¢ After a few breaths, begin your inhalation in the belly/lower abdomen. When your belly is full, take in more air in the lower chest. When the lower chest feels full, take in a little more air in the upper chest.
â€¢ Now as you exhale, feel the air first leave the upper chest, then the lower chest, and then the abdomen.
This is called the 3 part breath, and after a few rounds, you will get the hang of it!Â Set aside a few minutes each day to practice. When you are in a stressful situation, engage this breath.
Get Sufficient Rest
Our bodies require rest in order to recover and perform at an optimal level. This means getting a good nightâ€™s sleep and being aware of times when you need extra rest. For a good nightâ€™s sleep:
â€¢ Limit caffeine intake, and do not drink caffeinated products at least 5 hours prior to sleeping.
â€¢ Avoid heavy meals at dinner time and give yourself 3 hours to digest before going to bed.
â€¢ Dim the lights one hour before going to bed. This will tell your body that itâ€™s time to start preparing for sleep.
â€¢ Complete darkness in the bedroom is important for a good nightâ€™s sleep. Darkness signals our body to produce the hormone melatonin, which regulates our sleep cycles.
â€¢ Keep your bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep.Â Move the TV and computer out of the bedroom.
If you need additional support falling asleep:
â€¢ Try breathing exercises, stretches, and relaxing yoga poses.
â€¢ Chamomile tea is an excellent way to invite the body to relax before bed.
â€¢ The Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha is an effective and natural sleep supplement.
â€¢ If you are on medication, check with your doctor before taking supplements and verify that your existing medication does not contain stimulants.
Engage in Daily Physical Activity
Physical activity is a key component for a healthy lifestyle at any age.Â Just as our needs and tastes for food, entertainment, and rest change through each phase of life, so do our needs for physical activity.Â Always be mindful and see activity as a choice you are making each time you do it.
â€¢ Low-impact cardiovascular (cardio) workouts will increase stamina, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health.
â€¢ Maintaining your strength and flexibility are also important.Â Strong and flexible muscles mean reduced risk of injury as you perform daily tasks and engage in regular exercise.
â€¢ Muscles burn more calories and keeping your muscles toned means keeping your body lean as you age.
â€¢ Working with your body weight counts as a weight bearing exercise; important for maintaining bone density as we age.Â Try yoga, resistance bands, and tai chi.
Load up on Vitamin L
The L is for Love. Loving relationships help us feel secure in the world, feel connected to others, and even love ourselves more. This means we take better care of our bodies and minds. How can you get more Vitamin L? Give more Vitamin L!
â€¢ Embrace loving touch – Make an effort to hug your family, hold hands with your partner, and embrace friends. Nourishing touch is an important human need with healing benefits.
â€¢ Show appreciation to your loved ones – Tell your family and friends that you appreciate them in your life. Write them a card or even write in your journal if youâ€™re too shy to tell them face to face.
â€¢ Enlist a furry friend – Pets have tremendous value for those who want and need more Vitamin L in their lives.
â€¢ Find your bliss – Spirituality is one way we can open our hearts to love and devotion and get involved in our communities.
Follow a Whole Foods, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
There is building evidence that many chronic diseases can be linked to out of control and unchecked inflammation in the body. One of the main triggers of inflammation is the food we eat. The good news is that the food we put in our body is something within our control.
Several diets fall into this description with minor modifications – The Zone Diet, Mediterranean Diet, and Dr. Weilâ€™s Anti-Inflammatory Diet.Â These diets consist of whole foods and recognize the need to drink plenty of water.
General guidelines to follow:
â€¢ Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
â€¢ Eliminate processed foods and stick to whole foods.
â€¢ Drink plenty of water and include green tea, white tea, and even some red wine in your diet.
â€¢ Eat plenty of omega-3; found in wild, oily, cold water fish, flax seeds, flax oil, and walnuts.
â€¢ Consume high quality sources of protein and fat.Â Olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs, and yogurt.
â€¢ Spice up your food with anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, including turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.
â€¢ Stick to whole grains.
Exercise Your Mind
Healthy aging includes cognitive health as well as physical health. Just as our bodies require physical exercise to stay fit, our brains require mental stimulation to stay healthy. With proper stimulation, we can not only improve brain function, but we can even protect ourselves against age related cognitive decline. What are some ways to exercise the mind?
â€¢ Learn to play a musical instrument or master a new language
â€¢ Try puzzles that challenge your mind and play mentally stimulating games like chess
â€¢ Take a class and learn a new activity (tai chi, art, dance) or a new subject
What do these have in common? They challenge your mind and get you out of habitual patterns of thought and action. For extra benefits, go with a friend and enjoy each otherâ€™s company, or take a group class and meet a new pal!
Select one step to focus on each month and build your way to a healthy lifestyle that supports you in aging gracefully.
Bahareh is a certified Health Coach based in Encinitas, California. She empowers others to live healthier, happier lives by eating healthy, reducing stress, and finding balance.