Anyone who has cared for aging parents or grandparents knows that quality of life during our final years is not a given. What starts as a small ache or pain can quickly become a lengthy process of doctors visits, therapies, and ongoing stress. Sadly, it often seems that both older adults and their families spend more time worrying about health troubles than they spend enjoying time with each other.
It doesn’t have to be this way…
Here are a few things you should know about aging and how to maximize quality of life during the later years:
Aging does not always mean decline
Aging does not necessarily mean that a person is doomed to an extended, inescapable roller coaster of aches, pains and long-term conditions. In fact, many people enjoy their later years with relatively few significant health concerns.
At 44 years old, Tom Brady is still winning super bowls. John Glenn was 77 when he went to space, and the oldest person in history to summit Mt. Rainier was 82. The oldest person to receive a college diploma was 95! At this point, these people are exceptions to the norm - but what if we told you that there are things we could do to make this a more common experience?
How to support healthy aging
It’s not a huge secret. Diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices are the building blocks that unlock healthy aging.
Regular exercise can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. Exercise also helps with sustained mobility, muscle, bone, cognitive, and mental health.
To keep your body functioning properly, you have to give it the right fuel. A healthy, balanced diet that includes plant-based and whole foods can help prevent numerous health problems that are commonly seen in older folks- like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
Poor health can be reversed
Sure, healthy aging can be achieved with the right diet, exercise and lifestyle. But what about those of us who haven’t followed a strict health and wellness regimen for most of our lives? Are we then doomed to a slow decline?
We can make lifestyle adjustments to support healthy aging much later in life that can counteract years without doing so! One study, for example, found that when participants averaging age 68 practiced resistance training, improvements could be seen in gene expression, cellular energy production, and of course, in participants’ strength and mobility. In fewer words, the study demonstrated that strength training could reverse biological age.
I want to protect my long-term health. How do I start?
No matter your current age, or your current lifestyle -- we all have room for improvement. So, start with a self-assessment. Take your current symptoms as “guidelines” for improvement. Do you struggle with exercise and flexibility? Make it a goal to begin stretching classes or practicing yoga. Have you had difficulty managing weight over the years? Brainstorm strategies to make lasting improvements in your diet; maybe even consult your doctor or nutritionist and form a plan. One small lifestyle adjustment can have a bigger impact than you might think on your quality of life down the road.
When it comes to health, some things are beyond our control -- we are all at the mercy of our own genetics, for example. So, that’s all the more reason to take charge of what we can, and do our best to support a long, healthy life.