Everyday choices to ensure you thrive as you age
By Barbara Pierce
You want those years to be happy; you want to thrive, to live independently doing the things you love. To increase your odds of doing so, it’s never too late to benefit from some simple changes to lessen the chances that your later years will be clouded by physical or mental disabilities.
Increase your odds of living longer and better with a few easy choices you can make in your everyday life. Genetics probably only accounts for 20% to 30% of how we age; the everyday choices we make are important for the quality of our life as we age.
Some suggestions from experts on how to thrive in old age:
• Move more: Move naturally throughout the day — walk, garden, walk the dog or do housework. The more activity, the better off you will be. So get up and move throughout the day, choose the stairs over the elevator, and take short walks throughout the day.
A Harvard study of older people found that beginning a light workout routine, even if you’ve never exercised before, reduces your chances of becoming disabled by 25%.
• Improve what you eat: Instead of focusing on what you’re going to cut out of your diet, focus on what you need to add. Like beans: Beans are standard among the world’s longest-lived peoples. Enjoy them in hummus, soups, stews, and salads.
“Eat the food God has given us,” suggests Dr. Mark Hyman online. “Ask yourself, ‘Did God make this or did man make this?’ Did God make a Twinkie? No. Did God make an avocado? Yes. It’s pretty simple.”
• De-stress wisely: Chronic stress leads to inflammation and is the foundation for every age-related disease. Find ways to manage your stress that doesn’t involve food, alcohol or smoking.
• Consider meditating. Even 10 minutes a day can lower stress. Meditation is an umbrella term for the goal of achieving a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques; you can’t do it wrong.
“The No. 1 health benefit — beyond diet and exercise— to complete the cycle of well-being is meditation,” said Melanie Pandit, meditation instructor of Sahaja Meditation, Upstate New York. Pandit offers free classes on Sahaja meditation (see https://meditateupstate.com/ for details.)
April Cacciatori, certified life coach, licensed massage therapist and owner-operator of Zensations Therapeutic Massage in Rome, also believes in the value of meditation.
“If you do it for even five minutes — set a time and sit in quietness. This will clear your mental space, help you prioritize and let go of things that aren’t important,” she said.
Cacciatori also teaches a form of meditation.
Find source of stress
Dr. Dean Ornish, well-known advocate of lifestyle changes to treat and prevent heart disease, says online that reducing stress starts with realizing where stress comes from.
“The stress comes primarily not from what we do, but how we react to what we do,” he said.
In other words, you can’t control the world around you, but you can control how you react.
• Get out, every day: Make a point to get out as much as you can. Research finds that older people who leave their homes every day live longer than those who do not. Those who don’t get out are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Besides giving you physical activity, it’s a chance to engage with the outside world.
Simply going outside to chat with the neighbor or take a quick trip to the local grocery store could do you a world of good.
“People tell us they were sitting at home alone and unhappy, then came here and got involved and it saved their life,” said Sara Spezzano, communications director of the Parkway Center, Utica. “That’s why we’re here.”
Parkway offers a variety of activities.
• Connect with others: Although physical fitness is important, so is psychological fitness. People who maintain connections to others, through family, friends, work, volunteering, church, remain healthier in old age.
“Feeling loved and supported and having intimacy in your life helps keep you healthy,” said Ornish. “People who are lonely and depressed are three times more likely to get sick and die prematurely when compared to those who have social connections.”
“The need for a social network is a big issue,” said Spezzano.
Churches are a good way to connect. “I definitely believe that those who are part of a church have better health and longer lives,” said Father John Hogan of St. Mary of the Assumption, Oswego. “In our parish, the senior citizens’ interactions with one another are a source of support; their camaraderie makes all the difference in the world to them.”
• Have a purpose: One of the things people who live long, healthy lives have in common is that they have a strong sense of purpose — such as volunteer work or taking care of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.