As part of our exploration of positive aging, we’ve just finished a series on building extraordinary relationships. We know that concentrating on those we love yields strong benefits of happiness in this time of our lives. But there’s something else we need to concentrate on – and that’s ourselves. We’re responsible for creating optimum health – the key to vibrant longevity. All we need is a plan! Let’s start with exercise.
What does exercise do for you?
If there were a pill that would help you manage your weight, improve your health, reduce your stress, make you look and feel better, and possibly live longer, would you take it? Of course, you would. Although there’s no pill that will do all that, there is a simple thing we can do each day to gain those benefits. It’s called “exercise,” and it can be the fountain of youth for retirees.
Regular exercise provides a myriad of health benefits to everyone, but especially to seniors. It improves blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cognitive function. It lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s, obesity, heart disease, and colon cancer – to name just a few.
It improves our mood and gives us energy, and it may even make us live longer. According to Dr. I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard professor, a middle-aged person who gets the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise – defined as the level of brisk walking – can expect a 1-to-7 return: seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute of exercising.
Protect your pocketbook by protecting your health.
If that’s not enough to get you off the couch, consider your pocket book. In order to prevent spending much of our retirement savings on health-related or medical expenses, we need to invest in a healthy lifestyle and avoid being sedentary.
If we want retirement to be a time not to slow down – but to explore new adventures, we need our health. It’s worth more than gold.
And it’s never too late to begin. Health benefits can be gained into the 90’s and even beyond. Just get started.
Embrace Healthy Living
Begin by making a commitment to working toward a healthy lifestyle. Our health is largely a result of our own decisions.
According to a groundbreaking study on Successful Aging sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, only 30% of how we age can be attributed to our genes. The remaining 70% is determined by our lifestyle choices.
A life of television watching has its consequences. We boomers do like our TV. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV every day (or 28 hours a week. That’s two months of nonstop TV watching per year. In a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine years glued to the tube!
Moving toward optimum health doesn’t have to be done all at once, and it doesn’t require drastic changes. Instead, it means taking a series of small, incremental steps toward the healthy life you seek. Like the legs on a three-legged stool, this kind of lifestyle rests on three supports: solid nutrition, regular exercise, and a reduction in stress.
What about diet?
Since our metabolism slows as we age, we need less food to make the energy we need. That’s why so many seniors suffer from creeping weight gain. The addition of only a pound a year can result in a significant and unwelcome change in our bodies by the time we retire. The National Institute of Health recommends that we choose nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and poultry, rather than calorie-heavy foods like candy and chips.
That’s easier said than done, especially when it seems that almost everything we do revolves around food and drink. Exercise can be the saving grace here! The NIT also recommends getting 150 minutes a week of physical activity. That sounds like a lot, but it’s easier than you think and will be discussed in detail in this chapter. Somehow it’s easier to take a walk when you realize you can trade it for a bit more food. We’ll be talking more about diet later in this series.
Controlling stress is important!
Exercise can also help to reduce the stress we all deal with every day. Aerobic exercise causes the release of endorphins that help us feel better. People manage stress in all kinds of ways, so you’ll need to find what works best for you. It might be learning to meditate or practicing yoga, or it might just be getting outside to enjoy nature or sitting quietly to reflect on the good things in your life. We’ll explore some of the options for controlling stress in this series.
The good news is that you are in control. You can take charge of your health at any age and make adjustments to create optimum health and vibrant longevity.
We hope you’ll join us in this part of the adventure!