Six steps to growing old gracefully and healthily
In his Orations, Marcus Tullius Cicero describes old age as "the crown of life, our play's last act." His words inspire exactly the type of images that should be associated with age; "as our bodies begin to slow from our youth's adventures and feel the weight of a life well lived, we can consider old age to be our life's glittering crown. Bestowed with wisdom, laughter lines and life learnings, we can journey towards our last act empowered with everything we've learnt along the way and equipped with the knowledge on how to look after ourselves properly."
But it's not just in the 'last act' that savvy Homo sapiens should start looking after themselves. A life spent healthy and happy will be reflected in how well we age. The beauty of life is, of course, that it is full of contradictions: the grandmother who spent the last 70 years smoking outliving the yoga lover, the junk food consumer who has a healthier heart than the organic food appreciator or simply genetics challenging a life's good work. But as the evidence shows, healthy living is worth it.
Contrary to popular belief, genetics influence a third of our health as we grow older. This means that the other two thirds can be influenced by our own choices. What we eat, how much we exercise, our relationships and our cognitive activities can all affect how healthily we grow older. These factors can also affect our ability to cope with genetic challenges. For example, if your family has a history of heart disease, a healthy heart will prove a lot more resilient. A healthy body will also be able to combat cancers and recover from harmful chemotherapy a lot quicker than one that suffers from a low immune system brought on by years of eating unhealthily and minimal exercise.
So what factors will help you and your body grow old healthily and gracefully? Remember, growing older does not mean a decline in health, only a decline in our abilities to adapt to change, disease and injury.
A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow - Charlotte Bronte
Sleep well and your body will reward you with all sorts of benefits. It's no secret that sleeping doesn't just make us look better, but it makes us feel better. We find it easier to concentrate, are cognitively sound and more alert. A better functioning brain can be more active, allowing you to engage in stimulating activities. Sleep also prevents weight gain by avoiding late night eating and ensures that our circadian rhythms which are designed to protect us (for example, healing occurs in stage 4 sleep) remain undisrupted. Lack of sleep suppresses our immune system and can also affect our family and sexual relationships. 2010's Sleep in America poll found that 20-30% of men and women felt their lack of sleep had negatively impacted their sex lives.
You should cut down on your parklife mate, get some exercise
Blur were right. It's never too late to start exercising, whether you're 25 or 60, and making regular exercise part of your routine is advisable. Walking to work, joining a gym (and going!) or going for a light run once a week all count. Cardiovascular health is so important for your heart and lungs. A sport such as swimming is probably the easiest to get into the routine of, it's fun and you can go at your own pace.
The purpose of our lives is to be happy - Dalai Lama
It might seem like a wishy washy point, but happiness is significant in shaping how we grow older. Happiness is known to boost our immune systems and reduces stress. When our bodies are stressed, heart rate increases and our digestion slows down. Sometimes blood flow can become blocked to certain muscles which can cause problematic physical disorders. In extreme situations, such as chronic stress, maladies like diabetes, cancer and obesity can develop. So how do we keep ourselves stress free and happy? On a physical level, before you can treat your body, you have to treat your brain. Our brains love new sensations and new experiences. Think about trying something new, accomplishing tasks or being more active.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar
Smoking and the dangers therein need no real introduction except that it's never too late to quit. Not smoking, or quitting, ensures a good set of healthy lungs, healthy blood and drastically reduces your chances of contracting cancer.
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well - Virginia Woolf
What we consume is probably the most important factor in how and how well we age. The adage 'your body is a temple' is completely correct. Everything you intake has an effect in some way, so if you imagine a lifetime of bad habits or naughty moments, what could that look like? Eating good, fresh food can have a lifetime of benefits. As we grow older, the importance only increases. As you head into your 'last act', there are a few nutrients and vitamins that you should actively consume to aid a healthy ageing process: Calcium (maintains strong bones), fibre (ensures a healthy digestive tract, controls weight and blood glucose regulation) and vitamin B12 (often neglected by those over 50, vitamin B12 is present in fish, cereal and non fatty meat).
Like a bridge over troubled water...
Staying hydrated is important for everyone, at any age but as we grow older this becomes even more important. As the body ages, it experiences plenty of physical changes, making us more prone to dehydration. Make sure you drink plenty of water at all times to help with digestion, flushing your kidneys and keeping your skin looking and feeling great. Staying hydrated will also help with warding off fatigue, especially when coupled with high antioxidant foods. Try having a glass of water and a prune after lunch to stay refreshed for the afternoon.
There's a lot to be said for how our behaviours affect how we age. Although individually these behaviours can moderately influence a successful ageing process, if you combine them all then their impact can be significant. Actively pursuing two or three healthy behaviours will certainly increase your chances of reaching old age fully functional. If you're unsure about your health, have an existing ailment or are worried, you may want to investigate the benefits of health cash plans which allow you to budget for the everyday health costs you might incur.
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