The idea of aging gracefully is nothing new, but in a society that fears the aging process and profits from an anti-aging industry, Dr. Upinder Singh, MD, a geriatric medicine specialist at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center and Kindred Healthcare, has a holistic approach that’s both refreshing and comforting. “If you want to understand aging, the first thing you need to realize is that age is not simply a chronological number,” Singh said. “Age is in your attitude. Enjoying your whole life, regardless of the calendar year, is the most important thing. We get old when we give up having fun.”
Maintaining a full, active lifestyle yields much more powerful results than any surgical procedure or magical pill, and here are some tips to do just that.
How to treat your aging body
General wellness, regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are the best medicine at any age but particularly as we grow older. “Eventually, aging creates inevitable physical limitations, but learning how to work within those limitations is key,” Singh said.
While most 80-year-olds won’t have the same exercise threshold they may have had in their 20s, it does not mean they should throw in the towel on exercise entirely.
“Say a patient has run 5 miles a day, every day, for most of his adult life,” Singh said. “As the years pass, he might slow down some, and at some point, he may only be able to run 1 mile a day, but this shouldn’t be discouraging. He should continue to run everyday regardless, for as long as it feels good.”
Listening to your intuition and respecting your body’s needs as they change are necessary for maintaining physical activity in the later years of life.
- Break exercise into increments: “Some patients are daunted by the idea of exercising everyday for 30 minutes, but that time doesn’t need to be consecutive,” Singh said. Working out three times a day for 10 minutes can be just as valuable as working out for 30 minutes straight.
- Incorporate physical movement into other activities: For example, if you’re able to walk to the store, go ahead and walk rather than drive. If you have to drive, park in spots farther away from the entrance to get in a few extra steps. “Every little thing adds up,” Singh said.
- Find an exercise you enjoy doing rather than force yourself to exercise arbitrarily. “If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to do it regularly, and you’ll reap more overall benefits,” Singh said.
- Don’t stress yourself out by obsessing about your age or how your body is changing. Worrying excessively about aging can do more damage than the changes you’re worrying about.
- Low-impact cardio such as walking, bicycling and swimming can all be great exercises for older people.
Exercising your brain is just as important
It’s not just the body that benefits from regular exercise. Exercising the mind is equally important, especially as we age. “A healthy mind lives in a healthy body,” Singh said. “When your mind isn’t healthy, you can become apathetic about life, and if you’re apathetic about life, you’re unlikely to be motivated to exercise.” Challenging your brain on a daily basis — by initiating new experiences, learning, taking up a new hobby and/or doing puzzles — can help keep your brain sharp.
The biggest component to maintaining an active mind is breaking monotonous patterns, both big and small. This could mean simply taking a new route home a couple of times a week, going to a different grocery store or even just switching the hand you usually use to brush your teeth. Breaking any kind of habit encourages the brain to create more neurological connections.
Mental exercise tips
- Do puzzles. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word searches and the like are good for the mind and are easily accessible.
- Try a new hobby. Choose something you are drawn to and might enjoy, potentially even something you wanted to try when you were younger but never had the chance or something you’ve been curious about lately.
- Learn a language. It will stimulate your brain in a major way and expose you to a new set of cultures and customs.
- Travel. Go somewhere you’ve never been, even if it’s nearby.
- Generally, how we age is determined by three factors. One third is ruled by genetics, one third is influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors, and one third is simply the normal trajectory of aging that everyone experiences.
- Being active while you’re young can help you maintain a healthy activity level as you age. “Think about your body as a savings account,” Singh said. “If you put $10 in during your teens and 20s, you’ll continue to accrue interest on that investment throughout your life.”