An old college friend recently told me he was shocked to see I had written an article for Health & Happiness’s Senior Viewpoint column. But after we spoke just a short while longer, he acknowledged that we both are now in our sixties.
Aging, after all, is something that naturally occurs over time. Our minds often are reluctant to accept the changes in our bodies until something happens that brings the aging process to the forefront. Aging takes place in our bodies every day of our life, whether we are aware of it or not.
According to the Mayo Clinic, staying healthy for the maximum number of years and keeping age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s to a minimum is key to a full and rich long life.
This full and rich long life is considered your health span. Your health span differs from your life span, which refers only to how long you live. Health span refers to qualify of life as opposed to duration of life.
The old view of aging, as Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School puts it, was that our bodies became like an old car that just starts to wear out and break down. The new view he describes is that our bodies are much more complicated than a car. Experiments and research have now shown we have genes call surtuins, a promising development regarding aging.
These surtuin genes can make you fitter with proper exercise and diet. They also occur naturally in the body. More research still needs to be done on surtuins, but medical researchers are excited about their early results. Activating and enhancing these genes may be the health span-promoting way of the future.
The basic key to healthy aging is a healthy lifestyle.
Eating a variety of nutritious foods, practicing portion control, and including physical activity in your daily routine can go a long way toward healthy aging. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic activity and strength training in their fitness plans.
The Mayo Clinic says starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight, and even boost your self-esteem. Plus, these benefits typically can be achieved regardless of your age, gender, or current fitness level.
Finding the fitness program that best suits your needs is essential. In my own case, I always was very active practicing Vinyasa yoga, playing in basketball and volleyball leagues, as well as participating in Zumba classes. I needed to find a way to keep the intensity up without overdoing it. Injuries can create a major setback, so it’s important to prioritize avoiding them.
If you’re in the area, a good place to start is the Marquette Senior Center, where they have a slew of options. Maureen McFadden, the center’s manager, can steer you in the right direction depending on your abilities and desires.
I’ve attended the Hi-Low Group Fitness class now for just over a year where instructors Paula, Lynn, Sandy, and Diane alternate higher impact aerobic routines with other cardio routines, mixing in weight training, other floor exercises, and stretching for an excellent hour-long workout. The class is held three times a week in Marquette’s Baraga Gym, which offers plenty of space for the twenty to forty individuals who attend regularly.
Regular Kay Mitchell, who’s been attending these classes for about ten years, keeps coming back because she likes the “great high-intensity workout.” She says the instructors are awesome and make exercise fun. I wholeheartedly agree.
Another reason Kay continues to attend week in and week out is the friendships she has developed with others in the group. Anyone who has ever been part of a team sport, military squad, or any group that works hard to achieve a goal being physically active can understand the sense of camaraderie that develops when people share a common purpose.
Another important factor to consider is brain aging. Brain aging can be traumatic not just for the individual but also his/her family and loved ones. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have become the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Dr. Lewis Lipsitz of Harvard Medical School claims reducing cardiovascular risk factors through mental and physical exercises is key to reduce or slow brain aging. Use it or lose it. Oftentimes as we grow older, we tend to slow down, but all the latest studies show this is the time to increase your activities in those ways that work for you. The priority has now become, as Dr. Sinclair puts it, “keeping people younger for longer as opposed to keeping people older for longer.”
Most people don’t want to live longer if they can’t do much of anything. If our quality of life is good and we can live longer too, that’s icing on the cake. So get active if you aren’t already. And a good place to start is your local Senior Center.
Kevin McGrath can be found step touching on the grape vine of life.
Excerpted from the Spring 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.