Longevity is a hot topic in today’s society. There are nearly always extensive studies surfacing on news media about long-lived populations in areas such as Okinawa, Japan and Ikaria, Greece, where unusually large numbers of people live well past 80 and 90 years of age. Researchers pore over the diets, sleep habits and overall lifestyles of these groups to find the secrets to their extended life spans.
Pretty much everybody is interested in having a long life, desiring to spend as much time with friends and family as possible, helping others and doing other things that we love. Life spans in our society, while not matching those of long-lived populations, do exceed those of our grandparents’ time. With that said, my question for you is, are you preparing now for life in your older years?
So, it’s true. As our bodies age, things change. Vitality and stamina are not what they used to be. Eyesight, hearing and posture weaken somewhat. Overall, older bodies with 80+ years of mileage don’t function the same way as bodies with decades less of wear and tear.
We think of aging as an unavoidable, unrestrainable force that will do what it will with our bodies, leaving us no choice but to submit to whatever it brings. Let me challenge your thinking for a moment: What you do right now with your body has a tremendous effect on how your body will function in older years.
I once heard a quote that said “you don’t leave the playground because you get old; you get old because you leave the playground.” There is a lot of truth to this. When we leave our teenage years, we often put up the basketballs and hang up the cleats, exchanging them for desk chairs and computers at work, and couches at home where we plop ourselves after a long day. Shortly thereafter, we begin to think of our younger years as our “glory days when we still had it,” not thinking that we would likely still be playing sports and being active if we had never stopped.
This carries on until we retire, by which time we have extra pounds, weakened hearts and deteriorated posture which all stem largely from our sedentary lifestyles, rather than from our age. From there, we live our senior years burdened with health issues and destined to experience much less enjoyment in our golden years than we would prefer.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As you plan for older life, I want to challenge you to adopt the following practices now as investments, if you will, into your body right now for your future quality of life:
Start Playing Again: If there are no injuries holding you back, there’s no reason that you can’t get back to doing the physical activities that you used to enjoy. Join in pick-up basketball games at the park. Take a friend with you to the tennis court. Join a baseball league. Sign up for 5Ks or obstacle courses. Of course, if you haven’t been active already, you should definitely plan to visit your doctor to get a full physical to make sure you’re ready. You’ll also want to ease back into activity as gradually as possible. Like I said earlier, things do change, so be wise.
Develop a Very Basic Exercise and Stretching Routine: When I refer to exercise and stretching here, I’m not referring necessarily to an extensive routine of sets and reps that you perform at the gym. What I’m referring to is you having a quick routine of basic movement skills that you practice every day. For example, you could practice getting out of a chair, lifting and carrying bags to simulate carrying groceries, wall push-ups and other similar movements. I would also recommend a nightly full body stretching routine. Each of these routines don’t have to take more than 10 minutes each, and doing them will protect your posture, maintain your strength, and give your body a reason to be able to continue performing these movements for years to come.
Make Your Life as Naturally Active as Possible: In our convenience-based culture, we’re much less likely to do all of our various physical chores on our own – grass cutting, gardening, car washing and housework – than people who lived 50 years ago. Instead of outsourcing these tasks to other people, why not continue doing them yourself? Also, don’t forget that you can take such actions as parking further away from store entrances and using stairs instead of elevators, given you don’t deal with inhibiting joint issues. These might seem like insignificant actions to take, but cumulatively, they can make a huge difference in how your body functions over time.
As you plan for older life, make sure that the life you’re living now allows you to maintain the quality of life that you desire in your older years. Contrary to popular belief, you can retain a significant amount of mobility, movement and independence as you age. The key, however, is being committed to making investments for that life right now.
Shawn McClendon is a fitness entrepreneur and owner of Back to Basics Health and Wholeness LLC, an organization dedicated to empowering people to take responsibility for their own health. He is a fitness writer with five self-published books, as well as a former health and exercise columnist. He also hosts the Your Health At The Crossroads Podcast, on which he interviews people who have overcome significant health challenges for the purpose of motivating listeners to make healthy decisions for themselves. Follow @ShawnB2B on Facebook and @ShawnB2BFitness on Instagram, and visit YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com.