Having lived almost my whole life in Naples, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that most of my neighbors and patients are senior citizens. I can’t argue the fact that this is a great place to retire…and it seems like half of the country knows it!
As a result, my practice has a higher percentage of seniors than most of my colleagues in other parts of the country. It’s fine with me. My patients over 65 are some of the best at following directions, taking their health seriously, and educating themselves. I’m always surprised when other healthcare providers describe their senior patients as stubborn, skeptical, and curmudgeonly. I admire and appreciate my older patients, and enjoy my time with them.
Over the years I’ve found that there are some strategies for aging gracefully that apply to everyone (pretty much) universally. Naturally, I was excited when I got involved with the Blue Zones Project a few years ago and found that their research into longevity was confirming most of the things I had long suspected.
So, whether you are 64, 44, or 24, if you plan on getting older (and I hope you are), here are some keys to living long and living strong well into your golden years. For clarity, I’ve organized them into the categories that frame my practice: Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right.
Accept The Facts
Surprise! I’m going to start with Think Right, because this is an importance place to start. The first thing you need to do to age gracefully is to accept the fact that every day you are alive, your body is aging. You will not stay in your 20s forever. You can’t eat, work, talk, dress, or exercise like a 25-year-old when you are 65. If you’ve ever seen someone doing it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s not pretty. If you will embrace your golden years with dignity, they will be kinder to you than if you fight them kicking and screaming. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean you have to curl up in the corner and give in to a life of sickness and degeneration, either. You can slow the process, but first you have to accept that it is unavoidable. Like the t-shirt says, “growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.”
Maintain An Attitude of Gratitude
Another key is to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Every day is a gift. If you are healthy, be thankful for it each day (all you need is one day without your health to learn to appreciate it). Learn to appreciate the little victories and joys in life. I know several people who make a daily habit of writing down five things for which they are thankful. If you can’t think of five, write down one. If you will get into this habit, it won’t be but a few weeks and you will find you are having a hard time limiting yourself to five. Gratitude reduces stress, reduces your production of abrasive neurotransmitters like cortisol, and increases the feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Peace has a healing effect on your body.
Invest Your Wisdom
You walk in a level of wisdom the rest of us only wish we had. Use it to help people. You have so much to offer the world, and we need you. You will find it so rewarding to impart your experience into a new generation of people.
One other side note I want to throw in here: most people think 80 years is the average life expectancy, and even most Christians think that 70 years is the limit God established for human life. But in reality, God set the human lifespan at 120 years in Genesis 6:3 and he never changed it (except for the generation in the wilderness after the Exodus – they were the ones under the curse whose lives ended in their 70s). If you knew you had 120 years to fill, would it change the way you set goals?
Take Positive Action
It’s tempting to get sedentary as you get older. You feel tired more easily, your balance gets shaky, your bones get brittle…or at least that’s what the TV tells you you’re supposed to experience. Nearly every symptom of aging I see promoted on TV is preventable, if you are willing to do what you need to do to live healthy. Now, if you’re already in your 60s and your body is already showing signs of deterioration, you have to be a little more strategic, but you can do it.
Move Right Videos
Start with my “Move Right Monday” exercise video series; pick one and do that exercise for about five minutes several times a day. After a few days, add another one. There is a series called “Four for the Core” that will tighten and strengthen the core muscles around your midsection – each of the four videos focuses on a different group of core muscles. You will find that it will improve your stability, flexibility, and motor control in a few weeks’ time. By staying limber, you will also prevent many of the common injuries that so many seniors suffer, especially around your pelvis.
Speaking of healthy movement and protecting your pelvis (I can’t believe I led into this with that), if you are married, have more sex. It is good for your core muscles, your heart muscles, your pelvis, your legs, your lungs, as well as your mind, emotions, and your marriage. There are no downsides to a healthy marital sex life, no matter how old you are.
You can’t watch TV for more than 10 minutes without seeing at least one ad for a pharmaceutical drug or a multivitamin supplement targeted a seniors. What frustrates me so much is that many of those drugs are intended to treat diseases that could have been prevented with some simple and painless changes to your diet:
- Avoid processed foods. They promote cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Eliminate soda – especially diet soda. They make you fat and deteriorate your brain, bones, and teeth.
- Reduce your sugar.
- Emphasize fresh vegetables, then fruits, then legumes, then grains, then meats, then dairy.
Quick Food Tips
Here are a couple of foods I can safely encourage you to eat more of:
- Blueberries are great at fighting inflammation and oxidative stress (which can damage your cells and tissues).
- Almonds are high in magnesium, protein, and healthy fats.
- Flaxseed is great natural source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats and are great for reducing inflammation.
- Spinach is a great base for any salad. (Add blueberries, almonds, balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil and GET READY!)
- Beans and legumes are high in good dietary fiber and protein.
- Yogurt and sauerkraut are loaded with probiotics that improve digestion.
- Turmeric is emerging as an amazing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory spice, and we’re just beginning to see what it can do.
Take more Vitamin C than you think you need. If someone tells you that overdosing on Vitamin C is dangerous, give them my phone number. I want to put that lie to rest forever. Vitamin C is a macronutrient, along with protein and calcium, and it affects almost every cell in your body in multiple ways.
If you want to add a powerful antioxidant supplement to your diet, there are several good ones, but I would recommend CoQ10.
Sleep More Than You Think
I’ve talked to many seniors over the years who feel like they have to burn the midnight oil to accomplish everything they have in their hearts (or their bucket lists) before they check out, but all they are doing is accelerating the dying process. If you want to look old prematurely, limit yourself to three or four hours of sleep a night. Sleep is when your body recharges and rejuvenates itself. You need to sleep. It’s tempting to think that you are giving up valuable time by sleeping, but if you will let yourself rest, you will have more days available to accomplish your goals.
If you are going to complain that you don’t like the taste of water, save it. I’ve heard it. I don’t care. You need water more than you need food. Not liquid. Water.
Take Out the Garbage
I probably don’t have to say this here, but make sure you aren’t poisoning your body with toxic chemicals. If you smoke, quit. If you use drugs, stop. No matter how good you might feel when you are high, it’s a lie. You might as well be drinking industrial cleaning chemicals — it’s doing the same amount of damage.
Stay In the Conversation
This could be considered a part of the “Think Right” category, but I set it in “Live Right” because I’m talking about a lifestyle of community. The research is pouring in about how people have staved off dementia for years by keeping themselves mentally and socially active:
- Keep in touch with close friends on a weekly or daily basis. Join a group with similar interests that gets you out of the house.
- Keep a dog or a cat — the research on the health benefits of pet ownership is well-documented.
- Learn to play a new instrument or learn a new language — in doing so, you will actually build new brain cell trees and build stronger cognitive connections.
- Grow a garden or potted plants in your house.
- Read books to children at the library.
- Volunteer at a local hospital or school.
- Set goals. Make plans. Dream!!
- Forgive unconditionally.
Whatever you do, don’t vegetate in front of the TV for your golden years. You have so much to give to the world — pour yourself out. As I heard one minister say recently, “give the world everything you have inside you and die empty.”
Age Well By Being Young Well
As I look over this list, one of the things that is striking to me is that the same advice that will keep you healthy in your golden years will keep you healthy in your young and productive years. No matter what age you are, start right now and live your life to the fullest in good health. And take a few seconds to share this article on your favorite social media channel. I’d be willing to bet that someone you know is facing their golden years with anxiety, looking for a way to protect or regain their health. This might just be the message they’ve been looking for.
If you live in the Naples area, stop by my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road and let’s talk about your wellness goals. Let’s work together to achieve the kind of health and wellness that will allow us to enjoy our best life.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas