Staying Strong and Agile As We Age: A Balanced View
As record numbers of Americans approach elderhood, all aspects of aging (and anti-aging) are constantly making headlines. There’s always a new trick for how to keep staying strong and agile as we age.
The AARP reports the average age of first-time grandparents is now 47 — which may seem ridiculously young to someone who’s about to move to a senior living community such as The Kensington Sierra Madre — few people are ready to behave like the grandparents of yesteryear.
In fact, celebrity “glam grans” such as Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon prefer their grandchildren to call them “GoGo” and “Honey”, respectively, rather than “Grandma”.
As Old — Or Not! — As You Feel
Age is always about perception. This fantastic four-minute video demonstrates how to “disrupt” aging, by illumining the truth that how we perceive “old” has more to do with how we feel instead of our chronology.
And how we feel begins with taking care of the body. Staying strong as we age takes commitment, and even the famous are not immune.
Redford spontaneously offers, “When I was young I was very athletic, and I could move the way I wanted to move when I wanted to move, and never thought about it.” As he’s grown older, says Redford, “You realize you have to start being careful, and I find that hard to deal with. But if you’re not careful, the consequences are great.”
A Four-Point Primer for Staying Strong As We Age
Redford makes an enduring point. One in four Americans over 65 falls each year. Over age 80, this figure jumps to one in two. And falling once doubles someone’s chances of falling again. The odds of a hip fracture are high — and even if the fall does not result in physical injury, it carries a heavy penalty for future quality of life.
The greatest risk factors for falls in older age? Lower body weakness, coupled with balance and walking difficulties are what make us incapable of staying strong as we age. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers a four-pronged approach that can assist seniors in maintaining their stamina while remaining strong, flexible, and steady. You can practice these exercises at home or in an assisted living community:
The Teddy Roosevelt aphorism, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” is applicable here. As Redford observed, in his eighties physical activity requires attention.
But far from surrendering to an aging body, NIA recommends slowly building up endurance by engaging in moderate physical activity to start, such as walking for 10-15 minutes at a comfortable pace, or gardening, cycling, dancing; whatever is appropriate to your current state of physical fitness — which should always be evaluated by a health professional prior to beginning any fitness program, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while.
Unlike cars and appliances, which wear out with use, muscles grow stronger the more we use them, regardless of age. Stronger muscles make it easier for seniors to get up out of a chair, carry groceries, play with grandchildren — and improve balance.There is a wide range of upper and lower body strengthening exercises for seniors, from gripping a tennis ball to wall push-ups to leg raises using a chair.
Balance and strength go hand-in-hand
In China, millions of adults of all ages — including many people of advanced age — start the day with Tai Chi, an ancient practice of slow, precise movements and breathing exercises that improves bone and heart health, promotes better sleep, and is an excellent way to create and maintain balance. Staying strong as we age involves maintaining a sense of balance.
Can you get up easily from the floor, or from a sitting position? Are you able to retrieve something you’ve dropped without discomfort? These are the hallmarks of flexibility. Gentle stretching exercises for every part of an older body work in concert with balance and strength training and are beneficial even if someone doesn’t engage in an endurance activity afterward. Many of the exercises for all four types of fitness are related and can be performed in sequence.
Take A Hike
Once you’re well on your way to a stronger, more limber body, you may want to consider the benefits of exercising in nature, which adds a dimension of mental health to the picture.
One septuagenarian hiked the 2180-plus mile Appalachian Trail with his son and brought home a backpack full of photos and once-in-a-lifetime memories to share at his local senior center. “Ironman Bill” braved ice, snow and other weather challenges, took a brief break to nurse a knee injury, revealed in the astonishing beauty of nature, and returned with a strong sense of accomplishment.
Cut A Rug
A semi-retired senior in his late sixties, a longtime ballroom dancer, maintains that dancing is one of the best activities to help seasoned adults stay fit, as well as to meet new friends and have fun.
The research backs him up — for mental health as well as physical fitness. A study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that seniors who danced three to four times a week — especially those who ballroom danced — had a 75 percent lower risk of dementia compared with people who didn’t dance at all.
Mental Fitness Looks Fabulous
Because mental health and physical health go hand in hand, brain workouts will keep a senior’s physical, mental, and emotional well being humming. They’re surprisingly easy to do, as this list of ten simple brain exercises illustrates.
One older gentleman, a self-described “Luddite” (someone opposed to technology) finally capitulated and learned to use a computer at age 89, after his wife’s passing. Emboldened by this success — he discovered he could Google information about WWII — he ventured into the kitchen, where he taught himself to cook eggs. (This generation of men typically “couldn’t boil water”).
Number four on the list of brain exercises is, “Take a cooking class.” He simply “enrolled” in his own kitchen. When asked how he learned to make an omelet, he responded with aplomb, “Trial and error!” That’s mental fitness.
Another key issue that affects both physical and mental fitness is optimal digestion and elimination. For many people, the colon functions more like a semicolon: a pause awaiting another clause.
One simple solution is drinking the right amount of water at the right times. Awareness of thirst declines with age, so a senior may not feel thirsty even though their body is already dehydrated. Dehydration is dangerous, so it’s important to drink water regularly, for regularity!
Here are a few simple guidelines:
- A.M. 2 glasses of pure (i.e., filtered, not tap) water upon awakening help activate internal organs. If you’re motivated, try squeezing the juice of half a fresh lemon into the water. Lemon water is an excellent way to start the day, offering multiple health benefits. It gives the water a pleasing flavor, too.
- Before a meal. One glass of pure water 30 minutes before eating helps aid digestion. It isn’t a good idea to guzzle liquids with the meal, however; that will dilute the digestive juices. Sipping water while you eat is OK.
- Before bed. Drinking a glass of water half an hour before bed allows your kidneys time to release what’s not needed, and may help prevent leg cramps and reduce heart attack risk.
Further Steps to Staying Strong As We Age
Effective elimination can go a long way towards rejuvenating your body, mind, and spirit. Other simple changes seniors (or anyone, of any age) can make today for a healthier tomorrow:
- Cut back on sugar, which destroys skin collagen, accelerating the appearance of aging.
- Say so long to chronic stress, which elevates inflammation — the underlying cause of all disease.
- Get a bone density scan. When it comes to bones, being dense is a good thing. And now it seems a bone density scan does more than reveal the risk of a fracture: it can also be an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease.
- Enjoy community. The people of Greek Island Ikaria tend to live to very old ages while maintaining good health. The Mediterranean diet has something to do with it, true. But beyond olive oil and wine, it’s social.
Here at The Kensington Sierra Madre, health, exercise, and sociability are our watchwords. Our ever-changing calendar of events can keep a resident active seven days a week from morning till evening if they choose. An active social life not only makes the days interesting in a senior living community but, as noted, the benefits of companionship reach far beyond keeping busy.
Come learn more about our diverse life enrichment opportunities, designed to stimulate your mind, strengthen your body, and nourish your spirit. At The Kensington Sierra Madre, you’re always welcome home.