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Sunday
Oct052014

What Does It Mean to “Age Well”? 

What images or scenarios come to mind when you think of "aging well"? 

Each of us grows older processing the examples of our family members as well as the societal messages we absorb about life in our later decades.

What are the messages you've received? 

Perhaps you're young enough that the concept of "aging" feels, as yet, irrelevant. Maybe you're old enough that you feel your fate is already sealed. 

Regardless of age, it's important to understand what really influences our continued vitality throughout our lifetimes. Check out these reality checks and practical takeaways for healthy living across the decades.

What We’re Told “Aging Well” Means…

The goal: perpetual youth! This is the message cultural sources sell us as we age. How many ads do we see every day for products or services targeted at helping us look younger longer? Whether it’s wrinkle cream, Botox, liposuction, or Rogaine, the priority is clear: we should be battling our outsides.

So often, the sole focus is outward appearance as opposed to overall health or inner vitality – despite the fact that we age from the inside out.

In an even more bizarre twist, we’re simultaneously led to believe that significantly declining health on the inside is inevitable as we age. We accept common conditions (e.g. arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, impaired mobility, decreased flexibility, added weight, low energy, poor sleep, diminished strength) as normal simply because they’re, well, common.

These are not, however, the inescapable scenarios of added decades.

What would happen if we threw out these media messages – all the cultural suggestions that make us feel inadequate and helpless? Step back and scrutinize, too, your own thinking. What assumptions do you have about life at 50, 60, 70 – or even 80?

In light of these answers, let’s look at the natural outcomes that result from everyday healthy living efforts. If we take care of our bodies, what can we really expect? How much do our needs, abilities and limitations truly change with age?

Let’s, in fact, reframe our understanding of aging. Beyond what is genuinely “normal,” what is possible in our later decades when we focus on building health instead of battling our years?

As unexpected and perhaps radical as it seems, it’s important to ask ourselves what we want out of our later decades.

Our intentions – and efforts toward those intentions – will shape our actual experience.

Now let’s take apart the question of what we can do to set ourselves up for those best outcomes….

“Aging Well” Redefined: 5 Tips for a Healthy Lifespan

Mindset is everything.

The happiest people and those who truly embrace aging well are those who live optimally regardless of their years! So much of our health revolves around our mindset. Those who understand this truth and use it to their advantage by managing stress and cultivating a positive outlook radiate wellness – and vitality, the ideal condition of any age!

Our perceptions truly do create our realities.

If you want to look and feel like your best self, you start by truly believing in it. Own your age, but don’t let it own you. I’ve been at marathon and triathlon starting lines with men and women well into their 70s. Clearly, they have chosen to live life on their own terms – and with purpose.

Whether or not you’re drawn to triathlons specifically, find a passion that allows you to live your physical power and potential throughout your lifetime.

Invest in your health – NOW.

All too often, we wait until we’re bothered by aches, pains and lethargy – rather than taking preventative measures while we still feel good. Our bodies require essential nutrients from high quality foods (i.e. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids). How well we’ve met these needs sets the tone for how (and how soon) we’ll feel our years.

Clearly, a healthy way of eating is imperative. Important, also, is proactively assessing your health throughout your years. Knowing your lab values can give you a window into your future health – how aging will reveal itself in how you look and feel.

Most importantly, knowing these numbers also gives you the chance to intervene early and change that trajectory!

Factors such as life stressors, chronic conditions, and even medication use can substantially impact our bodies and deplete them of vital nutrients. In these cases, we might be following our same healthy routine, but our needs have changed. The result? Our bodies are operating in continual dysfunction and/or deficiency, and we’re aging ourselves faster without knowing it.

It’s important to note, too, that our bodies require more from nutrient intake over the course of our lifespan.

Absorption of certain nutrients diminishes, or needs perhaps rise given our bodies’ natural shifts. Increasingly, achieving the optimal amount of many nutrients is quite difficult (or nearly impossible) via diet alone.

Typically, a multivitamin, fish oil, calcium/magnesium, and probiotic are great foundational supplements, but assessments might reveal additional needs as you get older – particularly if you’re managing a chronic condition or take medications.

After assessing your current lab values and meeting with your physician and registered dietitian, you’ll have personalized information – and choices.

Many people find they now have the knowledge needed to fill in nutrition gaps like vitamin D (for supporting immune function and bone health or for reducing insulin resistance, etc.) as well as understanding what supplements like thyroid adaptogens (among others) can do for hormonal support.

Move!

If I had to rank these tips in order of most important to least, movement just may take the top. A negative chain reaction can and will occur when we start to move less. This process starts as early as your 20s or 30s!

Ensuring both appropriately intensive exercise and ample movement will pay continual dividends over time by building strength, developing cardiovascular function, helping keep depression at bay, maintaining cognitive health, building strength and encouraging quality sleep.

In short, we give ourselves the chance to look and feel our best.

I see the impact in my own family. When my dad makes a point to take his daily walk or my grandmother participates in her chair yoga class, the benefits of their activity permeate the rest of their day! Moving more increases our energy, aids in better blood and oxygen flow, supports cognitive function and helps our hormones function optimally.

Include protein at every meal and snack.

Did you know that as early as our 20s, we can begin to lose muscle mass?! It’s hard to believe when some of the world’s best athletes peak in their 30s and 40s. 

This is also the point in life when many of my clients are so wrapped up in the lives of their families and their careers that it's “impossible” to make time for themselves. Less than healthy habits become set. A decade or so later when most people really start to focus on rewinding the aging clock, it's even more difficult to change their ways.

While ensuring adequate protein intake is important for everyone, older adults should particularly take note because of the higher risk of age-related muscle atrophy. Protein is the building block of muscle. Without sufficient amounts, proper muscle functionality declines, and less movement increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, and heart disease.

Depending on current intake, some adults may benefit from nearly doubling their daily protein. A great practice is to include a palm-size portion of protein at each meal.

Hydrate.

Rather than wasting your money on expensive creams, face washes, Botox, and other cosmetic products and procedures, start with the basics: water!

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but none of these products will be as effective if you do not do your part with adequate hydration and nutrition. 

I’ve had clients who have suffered from severe headaches, muscle cramps and dizzy spells only to learn that they were typically dehydrated each day. Because our bodies are primarily water, adequate intake is essential for hydrating the skin, easing joint pain, promoting optimal mental function (e.g. memory, concentration, focus), supporting consistent energy and ensuring efficient detoxification - itself a cornerstone of healthy aging practice!

What are you doing today to build the life you want for the decades ahead? Are you interested in learning what else you could be initiating for a healthy lifetime?

Invest in your intentions by visiting a Life Time health professional today. Thanks for reading.

In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

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