By Laura Bollinger, RDN
You are convinced it will never happen to you, but the truth is that we all age. Because of the fall of man in the Garden, our earthly bodies are no longer made to last forever (Genesis 3:19, 2 Corinthians 4:16).
Though September is Healthy Aging Month, I imagine aging does not sound like something to get excited about. Around the world, we work hard to fight the signs of aging with lotions, creams, and pills. But what if we thought about aging a little differently?
Instead of thinking of it as something to prevent (which we really can’t since we can’t stop time), think of it as an opportunity. We have the opportunity to age healthfully.
Healthy Aging Month was instituted to encourage adults to take stock of their physical, social, mental, and financial wellness. You wouldn’t drive your car its entire life without getting maintenance check-ups, so treat your body better than your car and maintain it well.
Our physical health is likely the aspect of aging that we consider the most. This is with good reason since we can see changes in our physical features and feel changes in our body.
Early adulthood, ages 20-40, is when our bodies reach the peak of their physical abilities. If you’re in this age range, these years are an opportunity to maximize your muscle strength, reaction time, sensory abilities, and cardiac function.
As we continue into middle adulthood, ages 40-65, aging begins to speed up and we likely notice more changes in vision, hearing, and reproductive capabilities. Instead of just sitting back thinking it is all part of the aging process we have to accept, take charge of your physical health.
It’s estimated that physical functioning peaks around age 30. Somewhere in our 30s we begin to lose muscle mass and function. Sedentary individuals can lose as much as 5% of their muscle mass each decade! However, it can be maintained through regular exercise, specifically strength or resistance training. An added bonus of resistance training is that it also strengthens our bones as it maintains or increases muscle strength, preventing osteoporosis.
Another part of maintaining our physical health is completing the recommended health screenings for your age group. Check out this guide from Tri-City Medical Center to better understand which health screenings are recommended for you, then talk to your doctor for specific recommendations based on your medical history.
Regular check-ups and health screenings are an important part of physical health. Early identification of health problems makes them easier to treat and more likely to resolve or cure.
Inevitably, as we age, our social circles will change. These changes are another opportunity to challenge typical aging norms and learn about new cultures, different generations, and develop new friendships.
Aging can sometimes feel lonely, but by continuing to make new friends loneliness can be mitigated. To widen your social circles and meet new potential friends, try a new hobby, volunteer at a local school, or take a class at a nearby college.
Expand your social network and connect with younger generations. Not only will this help you keep more in touch with current trends and technology, it will also help you to feel younger even if only at heart.
Cognitively speaking, our development continues into middle adulthood. It is then that wisdom and expertise begin to develop. While cognitive processing speeds may slow down later in adulthood, wisdom and experience-based problem solving continue to increase.
Maintain mental wellness by ditching negativity for a positive outlook (Philippians 4:8). Look to God for encouragement in everything you do. Start each day with a positive prayer filled with hope. Surround yourself with joyful, positive friends and you will feel happier, too.
Research shows that smiling, even a fake smile, can boost your mood. When you catch your reflection in the mirror or a window, give yourself a smile and you’ll be surprised how much it can lift your spirits. Smile at others too; you just might make their day!
Planning for the financial future can be difficult when we are young or budgets are tight, but it is a critical part of healthy aging. As previously discussed, aging brings physical changes and often these changes may require costly procedures or medication to manage. A few ways to maintain financial health include:
- Creating a budget – determine our financial needs versus wants
- Set up automatic savings – investment account or savings account
- Save for retirement – participate in an employer-based plan if offered
- Create shopping lists – and stick to them
- Set up separate accounts for different goals – keep emergency funds in a separate account from your vacation fund so you’re not tempted to dip into emergency money
There are basically two types of aging: primary and secondary. Primary aging is largely uncontrollable and includes things such as cellular changes. Secondary aging includes factors that we do have control over including lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity.
Recent research indicates that adopting healthy lifestyle factors increases life expectancy by as many as 12 and 14 years for men and women, respectively. If you’re interested in prolonging your life expectancy, try adopting some or all of the following habits:
- Don’t smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight (body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9)
- Participate in ³30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days
- Eat a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet
- If alcohol is consumed, do so in moderation
Adopting these habits can not only add more years to your life but help ensure the extra years are lived in good health.
Believe it or not, there are positive aspects of aging. With age often comes retirement. During retirement, we can do things we never had time for during our working years. We can read books, take trips, finish projects, or simply take time to relax.
Older adulthood may include grandchildren, providing the opportunity to educate them and spoil them. There is freedom in retirement that may be disorienting initially, but can be an opportunity to be self-directed in your daily life.
Take time today and do something that your future self will thank you for such as go for a walk, eat a healthy meal, save a dollar or two, or place a phone call to a friend or family member.