For those who are fortunate to experience the aging process, there are fewer who do so in good health, though that does not have to be the norm. Getting older, aging, or being “old” does not have to be a death sentence, nor does it have to be a negative event. Aging is a phenomenon that affects the global public and impacts the health and welfare of millions of people worldwide. Realistically speaking, yes- aging brings about more aches and pains because our parts, if you will, are older. But it is because our attitudes and perspectives on this process are significant, that there are no limits to just how much of a positive adventure aging can be.
The Natural Aging Process
While slowing down a bit is part of the natural aging process, getting sick is not. As we age we can expect a slight decrease in heart rate, a modicum of arterial stiffness, and increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In short, the older we get the longer our bodies need to work. And any machine that works nonstop for years, does eventually have to come to a stop. Until that time however, there is no need to give up before our bodies give out.
Changes that we can expect to take place occur throughout the mind and body. For example, the reproductive system in both men and women changes significantly with age. Women lose the ability to conceive after menopause and for some men, difficulties with achieving or maintaining an erection may occur. Because older individuals tend not to go to work or have the same kinds of routines and opportunities for socialization they once did, cognitive decline may also be noted.
As part of this process, our appearance and resultant self image tends to shift. Our skin becomes less firm and more delicate and as a result, may be more susceptible to tears and bruising. Underneath the skin, fat stores and collagen decrease and with them, the protective tissues that are meant to preserve the skin. Wrinkles become more ubiquitous and the presence of brown spots and skin tags increase.
Changes in weight, as body fat increases and takes the place of declining muscle mass, are also likely to occur. As a result of this particular change, desired weight loss becomes more difficult to achieve. And if physical exercise is limited because of the demands it places on your body, your metabolism and weight loss are likely to be slowed further.
Vision and hearing adapt to the demands of aging until sensitivities to light and certain sounds take hold. Cataract development as well as an inability to hear certain frequencies can challenge how we see and hear ourselves as well as others, and decrease the desire to socialize or communicate.
Achieving Optimal, Physical Wellness
While these changes can seem daunting at best, it is important to understand that many of them are manageable, if not reversible. The impact of eating healthily and exercising on a regular basis cannot be emphasized enough, as both play an integral role in our health across the lifespan. Seniors are no exception to this rule, but it is important we understand that more than the development of good habits in advanced age, is the continuation of previously established habits. Our bodies are simply in better shape after years of physical activity and diets that contain fruits, vegetables, and other healthy fare.
In order to achieve and maintain optimal health, we need not only to move and eat well, but to care for our bodies in their totality. Regular check ups for example, whether at home or in office, are critical to good health. Doctors can monitor vital signs, increases or decreases in a variety of symptoms, and refill prescriptions as needed. Practitioners who make home visits to their clients can also assess environmental risks and determine whether or not safety features, such as non skid surfaces and call buttons, are needed and in place.
So, that we may live our best lives as we get older, our focus cannot only be on the physical or medical. Our minds age, too and need to be stimulated and taken care of as well. Seniors who work part time or volunteer, build up their social circle, have the opportunity to interact with others and stimulate their minds by doing so. Additionally, seniors who can maintain the healthy habits they may have developed in years past ought to continue with them. That said, the development of good habits at any age is praiseworthy. It is never too late to stop smoking, limiting alcohol intake and in general, taking caring of yourself.
Mental Health and Aging
Older individuals are unfortunately at greater risk for depression and other mental health concerns. Whether caused by pre existing diagnoses, limited socialization, or isolation related to outliving their peers, it is a risk factor that cannot, nor should not, be overlooked.
Senior citizens benefit greatly from participating in social activities such as leagues and professional groups. Engaging activities that are age appropriate and stimulate critical thought are important, too. And while no one should be forced to participate in faith based practices, religious programming seems to be a key element in adaptive aging. In fact, studies have shown that attending religious services is positively associated with mental health because of the socialization inherent in the services and the comfort afforded by believing in a higher being.
Any role in which the elderly can feel useful, needed, and respected is also important to pursue. When any of us, no matter how old we are, feel like we have a purpose in this world, we tend to think, act, and walk with greater confidence and self awareness. Whether one is attending religious plays at the local church, feeding the hungry, or volunteering as a coach at the nearby school, anything that grants someone even a bit of an identity and purpose can open up their world and make them feel appreciated and worthy.
Other key elements to aging well include maintaining a positive outlook and cultivating optimistic convictions. Without belief in your own abilities and skills no matter how old you are, you are sure to fail at whatever it is you are involved in. Believing that you are capable, having a support system that can truly be there when you need them, and a capacity to adapt to the changes life always brings, are also key elements in aging and living well.
Aging and Illness
Aging does not cause disease and believing that it does sets a dangerous precedent for younger generations. This kind of thinking can lead people to give up on living better lives, particularly if they assume there is no chance of realistically doing so. Aging increases our chances of getting illnesses because the older we are, the greater the chances we will be diagnosed with something. Aging and illness are in fact related, but our ability and desire to play an active role in our care as we get older is a huge part of how well, or not, we age.
Getting older does not make a person become someone or something they never were, based solely on the aging process. Senior citizens are not, by definition, grumpy or abrasive. And if they are, those qualities were either brought on by extreme emotional pain or were part of their constitution when they were younger. Who you were in years past is, by and large, who you will continue to be. The ways in which you conducted yourself as a younger person are the best predictors of how you will continue to live your life at any and all ages.
Contact Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC and his team at Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California and learn how you can achieve the best health ever, no matter how old you are.