If growing old is an accomplishment, then aging well is an achievement worth attaining. Aging well, or gracefully, does not mean having a plastic surgeon, it means remaining vigorous and optimistic as the body ages and anticipating the changes of aging with grace and dignity.
“Aging well, or successful aging, is a relative term and means different things to different people,” said Dr. Cathleen Obray, an internal medicine physician. “In general, it refers to entering older age as healthy, active, cognitively intact and as free from chronic disease as possible. Remaining physically, mentally, spiritually and socially active are central to achieving this goal.”
It is never too late to improve health.
“It’s important for people to know that it is never too late to start an exercise program or to improve their diet,” Obray said. “Exercise and a Mediterranean type diet, rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, are not only associated with a healthier weight and lower blood pressure, but have been linked to a reduction in the risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Some studies indicate longevity is only about 25 percent genetic, which means that as much as 75 percent comes from behavior and environment.”
Choosing to be more active and eat better today can make a difference in overall health and lifespan.
“Be proactive in your healthcare,” Obray urged. “Eat well, get preventative screenings and annual exams, exercise, and stay socially engaged. As people age, muscle mass naturally decreases and bones thin. People may have difficulty with balance. Weight-bearing exercises and balance assessments such as those offered at our Intermountain LiVe Well Center may reduce the risk of falling and sustaining a fracture.”
Continue to cultivate creativity and curiosity to maintain cognitive function.
“What is good for the heart in the way of diet and exercise is also good for maintaining cognitive function,” suggested Obray. “It is important to remember that you are never too old to learn new things. Seek out new experiences. Take a computer, cooking or exercise class, do crossword puzzles, travel, or start painting; keep your mind active.” Studies have shown that regular brain stimulation slows dementia.
Stay socially active and involved.
“Sometimes as people age, they may feel a loss of a sense of purpose,” Obray indicated. “They may no longer be involved in the workforce or raising children. Seeking out social activities that contribute to the community will give a sense of purpose. Staying socially active in the community through classes, organizations, or volunteering is an important way to foster successful aging.”
Medical Centers are often in need of volunteers and positions are available for all ages, abilities and mobilities. Everyone can offer a listening ear, a hand to hold or make someone laugh. Volunteering in the hospital is an excellent way to try something new and to remain active physically, mentally, and socially.
Aging is all in the attitude. Don’t focus on what is no longer working, focus on what still works.
“Recognize that with age you are likely to tire more easily,” counseled Obray. “You may need to take things slower. It is OK to take a nap. Remember to pace yourself and not try and do too much at one time. When my patients complain about growing old, I like to remind them that it beats the alternative. Aging well is possible and you can start today.”