Six Ways To Take Control of the Aging Process

We live in a world where everything is changing increasingly quickly. And on top of that we notice the accelerating appearance of personal change: grey hairs, wrinkles, age spots, and the disappearance of agility, flexibility, memory, and friends. We can easily feel that everything in life is beyond our control. It’s unfortunate that so many people seek ways to deny aging, rather than seeing it as a stage in life to be enjoyed. Rather than fighting a losing battle to stop the passage of time, or becoming prematurely dependent on others, I recommend a new awareness of ourselves, a pro active-aging perspective. Here are six ways to add an element of control to your own experience of aging.

Accept and Appreciate Yourself As You Are Right Now. Everyone who saw the 1991 movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” loved Evelyn Couch’s (Kathy Bates’) retort to the women whose car she’s just slammed into — repeatedly — after they stole her parking space and said “Face it, lady. We’re younger and faster.” Relishing her age and the assets thereof, she brashly replied, “Face it, girls. I’m older and I have more insurance.”

I don’t believe that “60 is the new 30,” but I know that, due in part to the efforts of generations which preceded mine, I have more intrinsic capacity, financial stability and functional ability at 70 than they did at the same age. It’s easy to equate being “retired” with becoming complacent and invisible in relation to where society is headed. Instead we can use the collective strength of our generation’s many assets and wisdom to work locally in support of the kind of global strategy and action planning that will secure a healthy future for us and generations that follow. The elements needed include:   

  • Age-friendly environments
  • Re-aligning health systems
  • Developing systems for providing long-term care
  • Better measurement, monitoring and research relating to population level health

Apply your wise capable self to the Age-Friendly Communities initiative, a joint effort of the World Health Organization and AARP.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Positive aging is not the avoidance of physical decay, and certainly not about avoiding death. It is about making the most of the time you have, of the life you have. It is about finding the glass half full, no matter what your circumstance. Many things in life are beyond our control. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. Face any new limitations with dignity and a healthy dose of humor. I recall a day years ago when I had spent weeks packing my worldly belongings for a relocation move. Cartons from window to sink; nothing left accessible but my checkbook and the clothes on my back. And that’s when the call came in that the truck had broken an axle and the move needed to be delayed two days. I could have cried. Instead, I called a friend and enjoyed a lovely summer day’s walk across town from my apartment to hers, all the while considering myself lucky to have an alternate place to stay. Always count your blessings and ask yourself, “What’s the best use of my time right now?”

Smile. It makes people wonder what you’re up to. Seriously, simply lifting those corners of your mouth can blow a bad mood away. Smiling on purpose changes brain chemistry. It’s a verified instance in which “fake it till you make it” really applies. Furthermore, smiling makes you more attractive and trustworthy to others, and it’s contagious.  According to neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, we all posses something called mirror neurons, cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex that are activated when we perform a given action as well as when we witness someone else performing it. And when it comes to smiling, mirror neurons respond to the acts of both seeing and doing. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile.” This all-around mood booster is one of the few available to you each day at no cost whatsoever. So why not take advantage of your own power to create happiness?

Stretch. Physical stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Stretching increases circulation of the blood to various parts of the body. It has a warming, limbering effect. So if stretching the body is good for you, how about stretching yourself in other ways? Now is as good a time as any to begin reaching for that personal goal you once envisioned but let slip. Learn a new language? Explore another part of the country? Work a different kind of puzzle? Stretch the totality of yourself just beyond your comfort zone. This too has a warming, limbering effect.

Donate. To donate means to give something — money, goods, or time — to some cause, such as a charity. The word has a more altruistic meaning than does simply ‘giving’; it suggests that you want to help, not expecting anything in return for your contribution. But there is a return, of course. Positive self-esteem. Positive emotions reduce stress and boost our immune system, and in turn can protect us against disease. Not only that, but one selfless deed generally sets off a chain of people feeling good who, in turn, do good for others. What goes around, comes around.

Get off your “ess”. I’m talking about salt and sugar — they look so harmless, so basic, so essential. Yet the rapid increase in their presence in everything from canned soups to frozen meals and yogurt snacks worries medical experts and should be of concern to you, too.

Excess sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure (hypertension), the “silent killer” responsible for more than 350,000 deaths a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans’ intake of sodium comes from four main sources: 75 percent is in pre-packaged, processed, and restaurant food; 12 percent occurs naturally in food. Only 6 percent is added at the table; and 5 percent is added during home cooking. Therefore, the best way to reduce salt is to limit your intake of high-sodium processed and pre-packaged foods, which is also an effective strategy to lose or maintain weight and eat a diet healthier overall.

While sodium intake has a direct consequence on your blood pressure, sugar’s detrimental effects on the body are not as singularly focused. We often hear about the short-term (weight gain) and long-term (diabetes) consequences of too much sugar, but there are many negative effects between these two extremes.

Aside from being a major source of calories that in excess can lead to fat gain, too much sugar can cause accelerated cellular aging and excessive inflammation, both of which can increase your risk for multiple chronic diseases. It can also decrease neuronal growth factors such as BDNF, a compound produced in your brain that is responsible for enhancing learning memory, higher-level thinking, and even long-term memory. Want to slow down the aging process? Start with observing and controlling your intake of these devil-esses.

Here’s a link to the real deal on salt and sugar, where they hide in plain sight luring us into their addictive web, and guidelines that can help you start to “get off your ess” right now.

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