Aging has never been the most popular topic. It’s complex and therefore scary. But you’ll have to enhance your life as a senior and decide to age well. Every day, more than ten thousand people turn 60. Therefore, we need to talk about aging. Those who think ahead about the age-related problems, like health issues, social isolation and ultimately loss of independence, are presumably way more able to cope with the challenges, and ultimately adapt. Continue reading to learn more about vitality and resilience for seniors
The short and simple recipe for graceful aging, including the things to make life easier for the elderly are as follows:
- Keep in touch with the community. It’s proven by the longest research in history. People live a longer and happier life if they connect and nurture relationships. It is also beneficial since being supported has a positive impact on stress relief and physical and mental health. Fight the loneliness epidemic. Go on, play chess by the river!
- Keep eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
- Keep exercising. There’s one research that claims that the combination of exercise and nutritional supplementation (whey protein, and 800 IU of vitamin D) increases the synthesis of the muscle protein. It enhanced “body composition, muscle cross-sectional area, leg strength, grip strength, stair climb time, quality of life, physical performance, mood/depressive symptoms, and nutritional status.”
- Keep learning new things. 5 foreign words a day, for example. Or a new dance choreography. Or quotes and sayings. It’ll ward off the cognitive decline.
We’ll look at several issues more closely. Namely, it’s important to know about the resilience, or lack thereof, of your mind, your brain, and also of your body.
So, here is another, more detailed list.
A More Spiritual Approach
- Embrace transitions. “Healthy aging means continually reinventing yourself as you pass through landmark ages such as 60, 70, 80 and beyond”. The key to it lies in balancing the positive perspective with the difficulties that all (plan) changes bring. First, your children move away. Or you don’t have them but have yearned to become a parent. Then you retire and lose that sense of belonging and purpose. Maybe your spouse passes away, your friends also, some move to other towns or countries. Your health is declining, you start being wobbly, possibly losing your independence. How to fight that? You need to learn the skills of coping with and adapting to challenges. These are some of the most important skills in life. They’ll keep your perspective throughout life, especially when the tide is high.
- Practice gratefulness. It’s an antidote to negativity. You’ll lose a lot of what you love and value the longer you live. But that’s when I hope you’ll start appreciating your life.
- Feel the feels. If you bury them, they become stronger, they don’t die. Name them. Acknowledge them. That’s when they’ll subside.
- It’s not the situation, it’s your reaction to the situation. This is when humor may come in handy. Laugh it off.
- Purpose breeds joy. Old age is not when you stop going forward. Find a hobby, learn to play guitar or a game, ask your community center if you can be helpful there, travel, and create regular moments of wonder- by spending time in nature or in a gallery. Start journaling and meditating. All people need the reason to get up, we need to feel that we matter. Just don’t give up.
3 Lessons from your Brain
Directly or indirectly, grit, vitality, and resilience are all connected to brain functioning.
There is a truly brilliant article on this topic: The Human Brain Is the Most Resilient Organ in the Body– it’ll prove the points of 1) constant learning, 2) adaptation to changes and 3) socializing.
Namely, the brain does go through the aging process, but most of the seniors don’t have major alterations, i.e cognitive decline that hinders independence.
The how is still a mystery to the scientific world. Why are some brains resilient and others fail (dementia)? When scientists discover “the how”, they’ll know the answer to one of the most widespread diseases.
All the organs in the body keep performing all the major tasks, but the brain functions differently. The baby is born with myriads of neurons, but they don’t carry out the job from the onset, they have to be “warmed up”.
Yet, when it finishes its formation, the wear and tear starts.
“Specifically, the prefrontal cortex and medial lobes—areas involved with high-level functions like planning, emotional processing, learning, and memory—get a little smaller, says Elizabeth Zelinski, a neuroscientist and gerontologist at the University of Southern California”
When it comes to a healthy brain aging, the research suggests, it takes 10 years for a human to forget one word. That’s a mild unnoticeable decline, and it’s normal. The abnormal decline, the one developed in dementia, affects the vulnerable brains (5-8%).
Namely, some brains that experience hyper-activation (“the concept of less wiring, more firing”) get tired more quickly, but others experiencing the same- do not. The same goes for extra amyloid – SOME brains develop the Alzheimer’s, others don’t.
Simply put, some brains learned to cope with their excess. Again, this feature shows as the only natural way of “dealing” with life and its complexities.
So, the major question, not only regarding the brain but the life itself is- are we resilient because we get to know how to cope with the inevitable changes, hindrances, transitions, issues? Or because we resist the changes?
Anyway, in order to connect a larger number of neurons, a person should start learning early and keep it up for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the brain will learn to adapt to the body aging and changing.
Another interesting concept that sprang from the article is the notion of the “Super Agers”- those older than 80, yet still cognitively strong as if in their 50s. They have significantly bigger cortex which shrinks at a much slower rate. Also, they have “von Economo neurons”, helping with the stronger sense for socializing.
Scientists discovered that having people around you makes your brain even more resilient, and that “loneliness and social isolation can be early signs of dementia.”
Embrace the Discomfort- Exercise!
Yet, to live not only longer, but also better, one should make sure to exercise their bodies as well. Always consult your doctor first.
There are many activities you can do, like hiking, swimming, dancing, yoga, but one has particularly caught my attention: it’s CrossFit for seniors.
It imitates the movements of everyday activities and it’s functional: you practice sitting down and standing up in various positions, that’s what you’ll need for the rest of your life. Therefore, it promotes independence. CrossFit is particularly efficient with Parkinson’s symptoms.
An immunologist Dr. Jenna Macciochi says “You need to give your body signals that you need the muscle, and then that signals to the immune system to keep healthy”.
Lastly, exercising teaches you one oh-so-important life skill- to learn to live AND FUNCTION with the discomfort.
Eat, exercise, learn, connect, repeat.
Aging means you finally stop fighting the inevitable process and start enjoying the time you should use for connection.
“The first-half-of-life culture” is youth-obsessed, so you’ll need the humor to adjust and integrate all the feelings: sadness, regret, loss of friends, spouse, your job, children moving out and so on.
If you are ready to keep the human contact as a number one priority, learn the necessary skills of coping with the inevitable transitions and loss, you’ll have enough perspective to say: “I am, after all, only seventy“.