I grew up in Florida, moved away, and then returned to spend most of my adult life there. This provided me many years of observing how people age and how they managed – or did not manage – their quality of life.
There were lots of people who were in their 70s, who looked and acted like people in their 50s. They were busy, vibrant, laughing and enjoying their retirement. They ate out, played golf, went dancing, socialized with other couples or singles like them. Those who were patients in my acupuncture practice, would have trouble “fitting in” their next appointment because of their activities.
Then there were the other group in their 70s – they looked like they were in their 80s. They were in pain. Hips, knees, feet, shoulders. They didn’t sleep well. Pain and lack of sleep left many of them cranky and out of sorts. They were truly old.
Why are there such vast differences between these two groups? Heredity? Genetics? Bad luck?
It may be surprising to know that the primary difference is activity and exercise.
“Oh, but I ache too much to exercise.”
The worst thing, the very worst thing that we can do as we age is to stop moving. When we stop being active, our physical decline vastly accelerates. Your hip hurts today so you stop walking as much. Soon your knees will join the chorus of pain. And your other hip. And your feet. With all that pain, you are less likely to join your friends on the golf course. Dancing is certainly not an option.
Add to that, the onset of balance issues – you watch your feet when you walk to make sure you don’t miss a step. And you sometimes stumble, sometimes fall. Then you start being even more careful.
Research shows, however, that nearly every condition is helped, not harmed, by exercise. Chemo patients feel better when they exercise. People who suffer from insomnia sleep better. Indigestion? Mild exercise helps. Think of any condition that ails you now and Google that plus “exercise” and you will find that exercise is recommended.
Miriam E. Nelson, PhD is director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention and Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. In the 1990s, Dr. Nelson wrote a book called “Strong Women Stay Young” in which she argued that the more we exercise as we age, the better we feel. In her year-long study of 100 women between the ages of 50 and 100, she asked that they not diet, but that they followed her exercise regimen. She developed a weight-lifting program that allowed the participants to gradually increase the weight they lifted. Some of the participants started with just 1 lb. weights. By the end of the study, most were lifting 20 lb. weights. The program involved about 20 minutes of lifting weights three times a week, and was easily done at home.
Within a month of starting the program, most participants felt an improvement in their health and well-being. Many had started activities that they had given up years before, such as dancing. By the end of the study, all the participants had improved. Two of the women who were in wheel chairs when the program began, no longer needed their wheel chairs.
Many women worry that exercising with weights will cause them to “bulk up.” Science knows that this is not true. Women do not have the hormones that men have that would cause this. You will develop muscles, though, and these muscles will improve the appearance of your skin (developing muscles under the skin tightens the skin). You will be stronger and able to lift grocery bags, your grandchildren, get a box down from a closet. As muscles in your legs, glutes, and hips get stronger, the pain you have felt there will begin to be eased – or disappear altogether.
And, of course, the same goes for men! For both men and women, if you want to slow down the decline, get up and move.
In addition to the exercise issues, the way we age has everything to do with our outlook on life. In his book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” Richard Rohr argues that the work of our first half of life is building a container, a structure. We work our jobs, create our home, raise our kids. It is the second half, though, when we fill that container. Many people never learn to stop building and creating the container. But if we are aware, it is in the second half of life in which we fill that container. Our relationships strengthen, our love expands as we welcome grandchildren into our lives. We have time for laughter, time for joy. Our spirituality deepens. We may study things we have always wanted to study. We may explore new goals. We may begin to paint, to write, to play an instrument. It is in this second half that we may experience true joy for the first time.
Soon East Cobb Hypnosis will offer an anti-aging program that will help guide you into into this second half. We will discuss “filling the container,” we will bring exercise into our lives, and we will start feeling better!
Watch the site for the announcement, or send me an email to let me know you’re interested.