Striving for longevity without dysfunction is an ancient art. Whether you’re in your youth, an aging athlete, or even a grandparent or beyond, it’s never too early to choose youth over old age.
Remember the mantra “Just do it!”? If you do, I have a new one for you and I’m definitely not trying to sell you any shoes:
“Don’t get old!”
That’s right — I’m saying you have the power to choose youth over old age. Regardless of your current age, you can start today and the benefits will be significant.
Going Beyond Positive Thinking
When we’re young, and our brains are ripe with vibrant youthfulness, we more easily respond to such notions as positive thinking. It works not only because we believe it, but because our brains respond to it. With age, brain function can change. For some changing this mindset will be more difficult, but the time to keep the inner workings of the brain sharp is now. Without that, feel-good pop psychology seems logical but actually means little.
“Old friends, sat on a park bench like bookends, how terribly strange to be seventy,” Paul Simon wrote about 50 years ago. Today we know some very important issues about aging really are under our control. First is the perception of old age — the image of a person who is referred to as elderly, old or a senior. Likewise so many of us associate the word frail with the image of a grandparent walking ever so slowly with a cane.
Just don’t go there. We control those images mostly. Of course, we can’t just think good thoughts and have our bodies and brains be young again if they don’t provide the right nutrients and healthy environments. But we can significantly influence this factor. By just eating healthy food, for example, a person may quickly become more alert and responsive, and physically active — all therapies work better for those who feed their brains with the necessary nutrients.
Like good food nutrients, adding music from our younger years can help our brains come alive as well. Those who surround their environment with images, sounds, smells and other senses that bring back memories of their youth, can actually turn back the clock both physically and psychologically.
Of course, I have often written about chronological versus physiological aging, and how that too is influenced by our choice of healthy lifestyle — or lack of it.
Research on aging is growing rapidly right along with the aging population, and healthcare policy-makers spend more time and energy assessing the issues and defining various disabilities rather than providing clinicians and family members with simple recommendations on the most effective lifestyle habits and therapies directed at specific physical, biochemical and mental-emotional problems.
The fact is, it’s well known in our society that there’s an increasing and serious problem. Studies are showing that while we are living longer, disabilities are becoming more prevalent. Other than old age itself, the disabilities of old age are primarily due to illness, most of which are preventable.
An English audit of intermediate care (published by Young and colleagues in the journal Aging in 2015) states that, “The modern general hospital is complex, expensive and has proved harmful to many [older] people, and so simpler, cheaper and safer care alternatives have been sought.”
The old age images of frailty, forgetfulness and vacant gaze are often seen in those in nursing homes and similar institutions, but these are shockingly unnecessary. The easiest choice to make is improving brain function, and, at the very least, preventing the common downward spiral like that seen in too many friends and family.
In the book Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande researches the important topic of elder care and says the most important component is not happening often enough: asking the person what they would like — how they want to be treated as a human being through the aging process. However, this simple, important factor is often missing from all the detailed planning by family, friends and other caregivers.
There’s another common problem that can be very serious — elder patients are frequently over-medicated. It’s too easy to start accumulating meds, ones that appear to be necessary, while adding another here and there without removing ones not necessary. It can quickly lead to polypharmacy — five or more prescription meds for a single person, with that number often going much higher. Ask the health practitioner if all those meds are absolutely necessary. Reducing side-effects and interactions between meds can reduce the very signs and symptoms in many elder people that prevent them from living more functional lives — weakness, fatigue, poor sleep, daytime sleepiness, falls and disorientation.
The time to start planning for future care is now.
Make your Choice
Just in case you need a bit of help with some specifics, here is a menu of items to choose and not to choose. Almost everyone can address all issues now, regardless of age, personally or if you are a caregiver. And the sooner the better.
Things that keep you young:
- Healthy and natural real foods.
- Natural fats at each meal for better brains.
- Movement — easy physical activity of various types. Variety is the brain’s spice, so spice up your exercise routine.
- Regular and varied mental activity. The brain loves learning new things.
- Music — listen to the music you loved growing up, and new songs too. Also participate — play, learn, write, dance, go to shows.
- Seek out healthcare help in reducing or eliminating medications that are not absolutely necessary.
- Ridding the body of pain and disability. This also may require help from a professional.
Things that make you old:
- Popular misconceptions about those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. We’re more than capable of keeping pace with younger generations on many levels. Consider that an 85-year-old man recently set a new world record for his age group by running the 10K in just over 51 minutes!
- Junk food.
- Sitting (see also inactivity and TV).
- Excess alcohol — for men this means two drinks or less daily, women one drink or less. If you’re not comfortable drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, avoid it.
- Unnecessary or too many medications.
The substitute for optimal aging — assisted living and nursing homes — should be unacceptable, but too many go that route. It’s a sad choice. Elder neglect and abuse is too common in institutions. Money for healthcare is not in unlimited supply, and we can’t rely on government programs to provide the best care for those who are ill and dysfunctional. It may mean that more elderly will be left to their slow death without the best care.