Friday, August 31, 2007

Healthy Aging, A Lifelong Guide

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, you are getting older by the minute! All of us are aging, and everyone should be concerned about the quality of his or her personal aging process. We've all heard that cliché "aging gracefully." To me, it means I'm getting older, it's inevitable and irreversible, so I should be content with wrinkles, gray hair, and bodily infirmities. Like most other Baby Boomers, I'm not ready for the rocking chair.
Recently, I came across a book entitled Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being by Andrew Weil, MD. His recommendations for healthy aging are nothing new really. Exercise, eat right, and avoid or manage stress. But, the unique thing about this doctor is that he advises us to embrace aging, to stop denying that it exists. Aging isn't reversible, although some think it can be done. He says it's a waste of time and resources try to look younger when we should be concentrating our efforts on caring for our physical, mental and spiritual health.
Dr. Weil is just one of many health professionals who believes in wellness, preserving your health with proper diet and exercise. Weil's brand of wellness includes spiritual health, too. The book gets very technical sometimes, but he provides a list that he calls "A Twelve Point Program for Healthy Aging," which summarizes the approach.

Just do it. The Nike slogan captures the attitude that everyone should have toward exercise. For years, the fitness experts have told us that, for heart health, we need to exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week. Some people prefer to work out in fitness centers like Health Quest or Curves because they provide equipment and counseling for people wanting to get into shape. Many churches have gyms for members to use for organized sports or for walking. Local parks provide tracks for walking or running outdoors.
Of course, physical wellness includes adequate rest and sleep along with a healthy diet. Weil has diet recommendations in the book along with pointers on food supplements and vitamins. Weil also has a Web site for additional information (

As we age, our mental capacities don't have to decline if we exercise our minds and take care of our bodies. A recent CNN health report cited a study that showed physical exercise and losing weight can improve your memory. Weil also says that remaining active physically and socially keeps your brain in shape. Keeping your "social and intellectual connections" is emphasized in the book. The seniors I've interviewed at the senior center all said that the games and crafts exercise their minds and bodies, while the social events help them stay connected.
Learning how to deal with stress is also necessary for healthy aging. A friend of mine once said, "You never get rid of stress. You just have different kinds at different times." One of the techniques Weil recommends is deep breathing and relaxation. I learned from my piano teacher to take slow, deep breaths when I felt nervous before performing. It worked then, and it works now. Something about deep breathing helps you relax.

Supposedly, with age comes wisdom, peace, and prosperity. Mark Twain said sometimes age just shows up by itself. Maybe that's because we are so occupied with worrying about aging that we don't appreciate the positive aspects. Dr. Weil says we should use aging as a stimulus for spiritual awakening and growth. Many older people become more active in the church, while others seem to be energized by new creative interests like music, art, and writing.
"Old age" is a time of sharing and giving back. The popularity of scrapbooking and journaling is, I think, an indicator that people are becoming more aware of a need to preserve their history. There is a renewed interest in spiritual autobiography, too. Weil says these activities help you deal with aging and realize the value of being an "elder."
Aging isn't for sissies, and it's not just for old folks, either. Since you're aging anyway, and everyone knows it, you might as well get out of denial and spend your energy controlling the quality of your life as you age. Check your library or bookstore for Healthy Aging. And don't forget to check with your doctor before embarking on your healthy aging plan.
Quote of Note: "There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Sophia Loren

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