My own aging, along with that of my parents, siblings, and friends, has challenged me to become a student of what experts are calling "healthy aging." Using myself as both lab rat and lab attendant, I've been browsing, digging, reading, listening, and reacting. I've also been toning my triceps, filling up on fiber, ohm-ing at yoga, and banging the strings around my fingers against my head, asking, where has all the gray matter gone?
So what am I learning? Here's my personal short course:
Healthy aging isn't just about living a long life (though that's part of it). It's about living in good health as long as possible. Let's face it: if we're sick, disabled, or depressed in old age, we may not want a long life.
Healthy aging can be summed up with two interchangeable phrases - being well and well-being. Being well means we are healthy in mind, body, and spirit. Well-being means that these three are integrated and in balance.
Elementary, right? But how, exactly, do we stay or become well? How do we sustain or regain our well-being?
Many experts agree that the recipe for healthy aging has three main ingredients:
Physical activity. Natural and intentional movement throughout each day, along with exercise that maintains cardiovascular health; enhances balance, flexibility, and coordination; and strengthens muscles and bones.
Mental stimulation. Acquiring new knowledge or skills, broadening your world view, continuously challenging your cognitive skills, and exercising your creativity, whether you're advancing your great ideas, solving problems, or creating things (tangible or intangible--a birdhouse or a poem).
A sense of purpose. A reason to get up in the morning that is larger than yourself; paid or unpaid work that is meaningful, rewarding, and uses your gifts; being with people who respect, value, and support you; and activities - you define them - that contribute to a better world.
Experts also say that in order to stay well and maintain our well-being, we should:
• Eat and drink with an aim toward digestive health and high nutritional value in the calories we ingest.
• Free ourselves of stresses that drain and distract us, whether they result from internal or external causes.
• Free ourselves from habits, patterns, or situations that feel like monkeys on our backs.
• Spend some time each day in ways that make us feel satisfied and content at day's end, even on days when we must do things that are hard.
• Sleep long enough and well enough each night.
There you have it--a taste of what I'm learning about healthy aging. Now, here are some resources that you might find useful in your own healthy aging process.
Three fun online quizzes:
What's Your Core Score?
Test your digestive health in this quiz from the American Gastroenterological Association. Your tummy will love you.
Test Your Back Health IQ
Brought to you by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, this short quiz points out myths and facts about low back pain and offers some steps you can take.
Do you know how much food portions have increased in 20 years? Read 'em and weep. Portion Distortion quizzes from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are hugely entertaining and highly cautionary.
Three comprehensive, credible Web sites:
International Longevity Center
Founded by world-renowned gerontologist Robert N. Butler, the Center's site offers free publications on a variety of topics, as well as a healthy aging section featuring a host of links to research and opinion on how to age healthfully.
Managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this comprehensive index of links covers everything from caregivers to diseases to Medicare, and much more. A portal to information from a host of government agencies as well as public and private nonprofit entities.
The Bravewell Collaborative
The Collaborative grew out of pioneering research into integrative medicine at Duke University. "...the idea that a person should be treated in his or her wholeness - mind, body and spirit - is a fundamental premise within integrative medicine..." The information in the Patient Empowerment section is excellent.
For more resources on healthy aging, check out LearningLife Recommends.