Everybody talks about active aging, but not everybody knows what it’s supposed to look like. Working to stay happy and healthy as we get older shouldn’t be a drag, something done to slow an inevitable decline into decrepitude. Some things get better and better with age! While the grocery store magazine rack offers all kinds of tips for getting a bikini bod or looking 20 forever, there’s not much actual health advice anyone ought to be taking. So here are five tips for keeping active with each amazing birthday.
1. Keep moving, in whatever ways work for you. Don’t limit yourself.
However you choose to stay active, make sure it’s something you enjoy. Being miserable while you move is not a great way to stay motivated! If being happy in motion means finding a salsa dance partner who can keep up with you all night long, don’t worry about the fact that the rest of your friends are more into yoga or golf. Don’t let assumptions about your age keep you away from the judo dojo, skating rink, or climbing wall.
The other part of “what works for you” is feasibility. Walking is something you can do right on your own street, or even at the local Home Depot if there’s three feet of snow on the ground. No fancy equipment or gym membership necessary! If you’re really into dance but your joints don’t appreciate the intensity, think about water aerobics or even a synchronized swimming group. If an activity truly doesn’t fit into your schedule or lifestyle very often, there’s no reason you can’t try it out. But for the other 364 days of the year, do something that makes sense for you.
2. Not every health and wellness issue is about “just getting older.” Ask questions and get honest answers.
Sometimes, people like to wave away problems as a normal part of getting older. But just because people say it doesn’t necessarily make it the truth! For years people have passed around myths like the idea that sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is an inevitable part of getting older. But recent studies people of all ages can maintain, even build strength and muscle. Flexibility and cardiovascular fitness don’t have to fall by the wayside either!
Of course, it’s no secret that our bodies do change over time. This is where the asking questions part comes in. So ask your doctor, a personal trainer, a massage therapist, or whatever experts you have at hand, and get the answers you need. Will swimming make the arthritis in my shoulder worse? How does this medicine affect my heart rate? Is it normal to feel this sore two days after lifting weights?
3. Don’t just ignore it.
You know what the “it” is for you. Those headaches that seem to be getting worse, the stress, the way you feel out of breath carrying groceries up the stairs. If you see a physician about it, you might find that it’s actually something quite fixable. Maybe all you need is a change of medication, better posture when lifting, or a massage. Maybe it’s something a bit more involved, like a change in your activity level or cutting back on smoking. But knowledge is power, and ignoring the issue just guarantees you don’t have the power to make those choices for yourself.
4. Health doesn’t just mean physical health, and “active” doesn’t just mean physically active.
So often we think about health and wellness as an issue of the body, and forget about the importance of mental health as well. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65. This often goes undiagnosed for the same reason physical illnesses do: people assume that these feelings are a normal part of aging, and so they don’t seek help.
Being active in a variety of ways also helps fend off depression and anxiety. Strong friendships, regular touch, physical activity (yeah, that again), and working towards goals are all important for maintaining mental health. Be an active community member by volunteering, voting, and working to keep your neighborhood welcoming, safe, and clean. Keep your mind active by taking a class or learning a new skill. If you find yourself suffering from depression or other form of mental illness, take an active role in getting the right treatment; therapy or medication can be a huge help when it feels like nothing will.
5. Being active and independent doesn’t mean never asking for assistance.
Everybody needs help. Kids need help. Parents need help. Athletes and firefighters and librarians and piano teachers all need help. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like if you ask for help, everything you’ve built for yourself (and by yourself!) will crumble, leaving you at the mercy of those who would take on responsibility for your life. But worst-case scenarios are rarely useful in planning for the real world.
What kind of help would be useful in staying active and healthy? A walking buddy? A lift to the gym? An encouraging phone call once a week? Maybe a professional could help. A personal trainer, counselor, or coach might be just what you need. Sometimes help comes in the form of a holiday gift, an evening of conversation over a tasty meal, or a great book on indefinite loan. The greatest thing about accepting help is that it shows you how you can turn right around and help someone else most effectively.