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Aging well

Shared  from Sheppell fgi

I was born in 1949, and this year I’m hitting a significant milestone.  There is no real magic at 65 and yet, in our culture, it is a formal marker for the beginning of “old age”.  The other day when my 90-year-old father expressed frustration at his inability to remember a fact that in years gone by would have rolled off of his tongue, I said with a smile, “It’s okay Dad – you’re just getting older”. I am happy to say that my Dad is healthy and his body and brain function as well as that of a much younger person. I’ve learned a lot from my dad.

Lessons from my dad on aging well:

  • Cultivate wisdom and get skilled at emotional self-regulation.
  • Ignore chronological age and do things not often expected from 90-year olds:  drive your car safely, travel, enjoy healthy relationships, garden, read and remember intellectually stimulating books, solve problems, hike in the forest, et cetera!
  • Learn something new: not too long ago, my dad learned to cook and re-learned how to throw a baseball.

What does it take to be able to live such a full life as we age? Both my father and the experts recommend cultivating a healthy brain. A healthy brain supports an alert mind, memory recall, good decision-makings, and emotional regulation. Essentially, this adds up to what one might call “wise”.

A healthy brain doesn’t happen by accident; there’s a lot we can do to promote our brain health as we age. The good news is we can even reverse some of the negative consequences on our brains of past poor choices.  Brain and body health are interdependent and both are linked to our genes and other factors including the behavioural choices we make. The brain changes and our thoughts and behaviours can make it change and develop in a positive way as we age.  This concept is called neuroplasticity. In other words, you can ‘teach an old dog new tricks’!

What does it mean to get older?

For most of us, getting older means sagging skin, wrinkles, and other external markers of age. But we’re also aging internally. Over the years, I’ve been aware of the importance of overall health and health practices. However, now that I am facing “old age”, my full attention is on the brain and the need to protect it, nurture it and develop it in order to achieve what I want for my later years. Whether working in paid employment or enjoying other interests, relationships and goals outside of the paid workforce, I want my brain to be ready!

The brain changes as we age

Brains do change as we age.  Since I am not a neuroscientist I won’t try to explain the intricacies of this process. However, according to researchers, a typical older brain loses some of the function associated with a sharp mind such as memory and recall, creativity, and imagination, strategic planning, quick and good decision making, agility of thought process, analytical thinking and kinesthetic learning.  There is lots evidence that there is a loss of function and slowing of the brain’s efficiency.

However, there is also evidence that the brain is resilient and can compensate and build new structures and pathways. The exact nature and degree of decline in functioning is not only related to aging but also to a number of other factors including genes, psychological or physical trauma, chronic mood states, physical activity levels, quality of sleep, and disease.  This can be pretty scary stuff if you want or need to remain productive, have good relationships and continue to make good decisions in your life. The good news is that this scary stuff is not inevitable! Many 80-year olds can have brains that look and function as well or better than that of a much younger person!  Neuroplasticity means our brains can be trained: we have the ability to grow and learn even as we age.

I’ve learned a lot about how to age well and I encourage you to consider them too.  By taking care of our brains, we will each have a much better chance of achieving our personal goals for a happy old age.

Keep your brain fit and aging well with these strategies:

  1. Exercise.
  2. Eat nutrient-rich foods, lots of vegetables and fruit.
  3. Learn new skills and activities that challenge your brain to develop new pathways.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Check your vitamin and hormone levels with your healthcare practitioner and make sure your vitamin D level is optimal.
  6. Sleep 8 hours per night.
  7. Choose to be in toxin-free environments.
  8. Challenge automatic negative thinking that feeds anxiety and depression. Instead cultivate a balanced response to stressors.
  9. Surround yourself with a positive, supportive peer group.

 

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© 2014 Shepell∙fgi. Material supplied by Shepell∙fgi, the leading provider of integrated health and productivity solutions that address the mental, physical and social health issues affecting the workplace. This content is meant for informational purposes and may not represent the views of individuals or employers. Please call your EFAP or consult with a professional for further guidance.

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