Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secrets of Aging Well

The Spanish explorers of Florida were looking in the wrong place for the Fountain of Youth.

The Fountain of Youth may be just around the corner.  We may pass it on our daily rounds.  We just don't recognize it when we see it.  The Fountain may be hiding in a health club, or in a local park, or on a walking path.  It may be in a garden, or a library.

I haven't met anyone who can grant me immortality, but I talked Saturday with a woman who has worked with the elderly to improve the quality of their lives for some 40 years.  She shared with me the two key things she has found that people who age well do.  These are the two things all of us must do to age well.

1.  Socialize
2.  Exercise. Keep moving but especially, concentrate on exercises that build balance.

It's as easy as that.  And as difficult.

As we get older, our friends move away, perhaps to seek warmer climates or to be closer to their grown children.  And, eventually, if we live long enough, our same-age friends die.

It becomes like high school again.  We need people but it is so hard to approach them.  Where do you do it?  How?  Will you be laughed at?  Rejected?  Even people who were once extroverts find themselves isolated, finding their only companionship in the TV set.  They become depressed.

If we do not move enough, movement becomes more difficult.  We decline, first little by little, and then it starts to accelerate.  One day we realize we don't have much balance anymore.  We slip on a throw rug.  We fall in the bathtub.  We hurt ourselves.  We gain weight.  We become even more inactive.

According to this expert, the vicious cycle of isolation and lack of movement can be broken.  We are hoping that this cycle, which has taken hold with my elderly mother in law, can be stopped and reversed. Muscle and balance can be improved, even in the mid-80's.  With that, my mother in law might be able to once again enjoy activities she used to do with friends.  She may never be able to participate in a bowling league again, but there are other possibilities.

It does take a lot of work, once the cycle takes hold, to break it.  So, in my self-study on how to age well, I now know I can never let the cycle take hold.  At 60, it isn't too early to start wondering how I will make and keep friends once I retire.  These are my challenges:

1. I am an introvert. But I must make the effort now to reach out to people. And some of these people must be young people - people in their 20's, 30's and 40's. It sounds morbid, but I need friends who will outlive me.  I don't need to force friendship and I won't.  I have never been a joiner, but it is time to join with people to share some of my interests, and see if friendship develops.

2.  I think I may be exercising enough, but I really am not.  It is time to add something such as tai chi to my routine.  Or even, develop my own program of balance exercise.  Walking and water zumba are not enough.

I must find my fountain of youth.  I know it is possible.

Have you found your Fountain?  Where did you find it?

7 comments:

  1. I agree with your tips for aging well, especially having younger as well as same age friends. My mother was widowed relatively young, just as her chickens were leaving the nest, but formed some lovely friendships with older women, mostly widows, through church and community groups. Sadly, though it was lovely while it lasted, the group of card-playing friends all too soon were whittled away through illness, moves to nursing homes or death. As the 'young' one, Mum had been designated driver and general runabout for those whose health was failing, but it always seemed sad to me later that she was alone in her last years, with her friends long gone. It's a shame a circle of friends like theirs hadn't had flow of younger people to breathe new life into it.

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  2. Like you, I want to keep that old-lady cycle from ever getting started. My doctor wants me to concentrate on upper-body strength (so I can catch myself if falling), so I'm doing modified pushups, resistance band work & small dumbbells.

    For balance work, I'm relying on my electric toothbrush with its 30-second timer. While brushing my teeth, I stand on one foot (barefoot), alternating when the timer blips. It's rather amazing how many very small balance shifts I do in 30 seconds as I constantly re-center myself. Two minutes in morning, two minutes at night, at the same time as something else = win-win for better balance!

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    1. I love the toothbrushing idea! Plus, I already do some modified pushups for my back - I can always increase that, too. I looked into a falling prevention program offered to seniors 60 and above in my area - only $35 for 7 weeks- but wouldn't you know it, all the sessions are daytime - and they are two hours long. Not friendly for a person still working full time days. Oh well.....

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  3. ah yes, but lets not overlook a proper diet as well. Part of the Fountain of Youth might be found in a fresh apple. It is sad that many turn to the TV for companionship. I have a chihuahua for a buddy. While my wife is at work, He gets me up every couple of hours to go outside,plus he loves to go for a walk any time I have extra time, but it must be once a day at least. He needs to be fed and I am his personal chef. I will be 73 in 4 days and have no plans on slowing down.

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    1. You are so right in saying some of the fountain of youth can be found in the foods we eat. A nice thing about Weight Watchers (which I've been on since November) is the emphasis on fresh veggies and (to a lessor extent) fruit. Herbs? They help flavor food and have their own health benefits, as you blog about. Your dog is another fountain of youth - that same expert told me that no senior should ever sit more than 2 hours at a time. Come to think of it, no one should sit that long at a stretch.

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  4. Good for you for grabbing the bull by the horns. You are focusing on the right things.

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    1. I had a long conversation with my brother in law's wife today about aging...we are certainly trying to focus on the right things.

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