June 29, 2011
Most of us say we would like to age gracefully. But the concept seems pretty much out of our hands or in the hands of a plastic surgeon. We say we aren’t going to take those drastic measures, but then many of us end up doing so. Why? Because we didn’t just take the simple, natural measures we could have taken daily while we were still young.
Did you know that only ONE THIRD of what controls how gracefully we will age is determined by genetics? It’s shocking, I know. Maybe your dad’s gray hairs that popped up at the age of 30 or your mom’s arthritis doesn’t have to be a major panic point for you after all. One third is genetics. That means there is an entire two thirds that are completely based on your own choices. Here are some of the healthiest ways to approach those choices:
The Pursuit of Happiness
It shouldn’t end with career, marriage and family. Because sadly, as you age, these things may become less present in your life. But happiness boosts the immune system and reduces stress. When you are stressed, your heart rate goes up, your digestion slows, and blood flow is even blocked to certain muscles. If you experience chronic stress, these conditions could lead to actual physical disorders like obesity, diabetes, ulcers and even cancer.
Keep active and involved. Happiness is easier to cultivate than you think. Believe that life still has enjoyable experiences to offer you. Even if you just don’t see how you can be happy as you age, force yourself to go to events, to gatherings, to dinner with friends. You’ll usually be pleasantly surprised with what you find and positive attitude and optimism are linked to longevity. If you’re not sure what makes you happy, learn. Take notes at times when you feel particularly uplifted, and those when you feel anxiety-ridden. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? Adjust your daily activities accordingly.
Don’t Run From Novelty
The brain loves new experiences and sensations. Have you ever really regretted trying something new? So long as it didn’t harm you, what you probably felt most of the time was a rush. It feels good to know you have the guts to put yourself in unfamiliar environments and try things you aren’t necessarily skilled at. Sometimes you have to fumble in order to have a new, enjoyable experience. But what you remember more than getting it wrong is how exciting it was to try something new.
Contrary to what many people believe, your brain has the ability to continue building neural connections throughout life. So don’t be afraid of new phenomena that simply didn’t exist when you were younger. Jump head first into social media classes, or trying a new food trend everyone is raving about. Doing so will cultivate curiosity, creativity and an open mind, additional traits linked to longevity.
Be Your Own Cheerleader
We are always harder on ourselves than others. We’ll spend hours cooking a healthy meal for a friend on the weekend; meanwhile we take ourselves through fast-food drive-thru’s during the week. We tell our friends how gorgeous they are and make self-deprecating comments about ourselves.
It may be harder than ever to do so now that you’re aging, but it’s also more important than ever to love yourself. Tell yourself you are fabulous. Make yourself fabulous by dressing up, standing up straight and quitting those self-deprecating thoughts and comments. Do the things that make you happy more often, and remind yourself it’s because you deserve to. Why? Because your body becomes stressed when you have thoughts like “I’m not good enough.” And we already know stress is bad for the body.
Become A Social Butterfly
Research shows that those who are more socially connected—that doesn’t just mean going to activities and events but actually cultivating friendships from them—live longer. This is just another way to ward off depression.
As we age and can no longer do the things we used to do, we begin to feel “useless.” But something you can always offer is a set of ears, some good advice and if anything, the ability to make someone laugh. Think about how much the friends who do that for you mean to you? You mean just as much to them. You may not be a doctor, actress, or entrepreneur anymore. But through all of those years of work, you also became the unique, entertaining and wise individual you are. That is something you will always have to offer.
I saved it till the last point to keep your attention. I know you’ve heard it before, but it can’t hurt to hear it again. Exercising regularly makes you less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, dementia, osteoarthritis, depression and obesity. One study found that women who walk briskly for just 5 hours a week have a 76% higher chance of aging gracefully and healthfully, with less physical and mental impairment. Of course, if you are aging, you can’t exactly run an hour a day or rock climb like you used to (if you used to at all). Look into low impact workouts like walking, resistance training, tai chi and yoga.
You can’t control every biological process that goes on in your body as you age, but what you can always control is your outlook and the lifestyle choices you make. Turns out that’s more than half the battle. About 66%, to be exact!