Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Add Life to Your Years: Healthy Choices for Graceful Aging

Dear Readers,

Todd Humphrey, Practice Manager of Vaughan Integrative Medicine, compiled the information in this article. He hopes at least some of it will make sense to you. Take the parts that work for you and discard the rest. Except the part about eating avocado; everyone should eat avocado! If you don’t like avocado, you should meditate on the reasons why. 
 
- Dr. Vaughan

If you search the internet for “Healthy Aging,” you’ll find more than 18 million entries for websites and online articles that promote achieving a higher quality of life as your body ages. From a holistic view, healthy aging encompasses much more than just the physical body; being healthy includes having a body capable of enjoying daily adventures, having an active mind, and engagement in social activities, sound financial planning, and personal spiritual practice. The sooner one starts to create balance the easier it is to create habits that support a life marked with vitality. Life, in all your years! Here are some ideas to help you get started on a path of graceful aging.

The Physical Body
Healthy aging starts with taking care of your physical body by making sure you fuel it with the proper nutrients and foods that boost metabolism, support brain function, and reinforce bone density. Fill your meals with colorful, fresh vegetables matched with lean proteins and enjoy sweets in moderation. When possible, choose desserts of fresh fruit or sweets that are low in processed sugars. Avoid all sodas and sugar-filled beverages like sweet tea; instead choose herbal teas, filtered water, or even filtered water that is flavored with fresh fruit or vegetable slices. Keeping the body well-hydrated and avoiding blood sugar spikes is a key to heath. Healthy eating has been credited for lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

While there is insufficient research to convince the National Institutes of Health that food and diet, along with lifestyle choices, can prevent Alzheimer’s, many researchers believe that certain foods do support a healthy brain. Foods considered fuel for a healthy brain include: 
  • Foods high in Vitamin E, such as healthy vegetable-based oils like olive and coconut oil 
  • Fish, like salmon, that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA--a vital nutrient for the functioning of neurons in the brain 
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli, are also high in Vitamin E and include a healthy dose of folate (believed to help break down homocysteine levels preventing nerve cell damage in the brain)
  • Avocados, which--in addition to Vitamin E--are full of the antioxidant Vitamin C
  • Almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds
  • Blueberries, strawberries and acai berries
In addition to a menu focused on nutrient-rich, colorful vegetables and lean meats, there is also great value in supplementing the diet with quality nutritional supplements. Choose a quality multivitamin as a foundation. There are different formulations of multivitamins for both men and women that focus on their different nutritional needs as they age. In addition, using essential minerals and a probiotic supplement can help support the digestive function so that you get the best absorption of the nutrients in your food. If you experience premature graying of your hair, talk with your doctor about checking your bone density; studies indicate that there is a correlation between premature graying and an increased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. If you have bone loss, consider adding a calcium supplement to reduce the risk of breaks and fractures that can interrupt your graceful aging.

Maintaining an active lifestyle helps keep you youthful! Regular exercise or energetic activities are shown to increase mood and help keep people healthy. Make a priority of exercising at least three days a week for at least thirty minutes; do more if you’re able. This can include walking when the weather permits, participating in a yoga class to keep you limber, or taking up biking. Some people may enjoy weight training, golf, or tennis. If you enjoy being in or around water, take up swimming, a water aerobics class, or go kayaking with friends. Talk with your doctor and/or a fitness professional about your lifestyle to find an exercise program that will work for you. Find the activities that you enjoy so you will be motivated to continue doing them. When possible, make exercising an adventure to keep it interesting and to keep your mind engaged!

An Active Mind
Keeping an active mind is imperative for adding life to your years. Research suggests that engaging in life-long learning results in better mental and psychological health. To keep your mind active, look for educational opportunities like university and community college offerings, classes with senior centers and arts organizations, or at local churches and synagogues. At the very least, limit your exposure to television and instead invest your time in crossword puzzles, Sudoku puzzles, or find a renewed interest in coloring in an adult coloring book. Rediscover the public library in your community or join (or start) a book club.

Part of the joy in maintaining an active mind is discovering the freedom you can experience in meditation. Regardless of the spiritual tradition, religion, or choice to be atheist, meditation offers an opportunity to clear the mind and truly be present while life is occurring. Meditation of only 20 minutes a day offers many benefits, including stress and anxiety reduction. Visit http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/ for a list of 76 ways that meditation can improve your health and well-being.

Staying Social
Being healthy includes engaging in activities you enjoy with people who bring joy, respect and admiration into your life. Cultivate relationships with individuals in whom you are truly interested; have authentic, honest conversations. Participate in activities that you find fun, engage your mind, and increase your satisfaction with life. Failure to do so can lead to social isolation.

Social isolation is not only unhealthy, it can be deadly. Studies indicate that individuals who experience social isolation are more likely to experience immune system impairment and elevated levels of inflammation in the body. These factors can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. It’s not uncommon for individuals who suffer from social isolation to die prematurely. Social isolation, unlike the experience of just wanting time alone to rest and recharge, results in the experience of loneliness and--ultimately--of despair. It’s important to note that someone can experience social isolation even in a room full of people. Individuals who experience extreme loneliness should speak with a physician or counselor. If you know someone like this, encourage them to talk with someone without shaming them.

Planning for the Future
Conversations about money create one of the greatest stressors as aging occurs. Financial planning is a simple way to reduce the stress we encounter as we confront the reality of our aging and think about possible retirement. Financial advisors can help create goals that will allow you to acquire the financial resources you need to support the lifestyle you desire.

It’s never too early to start planning financially. Make a list of goals to discuss with your advisor. For example, you may want to make sure your budget includes: a shopping allowance so you can continue eating healthfully, a monthly fee for a gym membership or for yoga classes, and funds for social activities that inspire you. Reserve funds to travel if that’s your passion, or earmark money to celebrate the birthdays of those you love. Having a plan in place will reduce stress so that you can enjoy the life in your years!

Spiritual Practice
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center:
Spirituality has been defined in numerous ways, including a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself, a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, values. It's the way you find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life. Although spirituality is often associated with religion, personal spirituality can also be developed through music, art or a connection with nature. People also find spirituality through acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism, and the experience of inner peace.

Whether your spiritual path is one that focuses on religious ideology or on altruistic atheism, experiencing a healthy life includes finding and celebrating connection with the world in which we live. Using traditional practices or creating practices of your own to experience compassion and be an expression of peace in the world can improve coping skills, increase social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation.

Creating Balance
Graceful aging requires discovering that personal, perfect balance of responsibility and play. The key is investing in resources to make sure that we can live all our days with a healthy body, a sharp mind, a loving and joy-filled community, work that is inspiring, intimate relationships that we can celebrate, and clear understanding of our connection to the world and the universe.

Whatever balance looks like for you, enjoy it with a healthy dose of dark, leafy greens and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Happy aging!

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