My 87-year-old aunt is an inspiration. She’s not an ironman nun, she doesn’t run marathons on the weekend nor does she thru-hike for fun. Aunty Margaret is just a regular old lady who lives her life with purpose.Nobody tell her I called her an old lady.
In addition to volunteering with the local hospice three times a week, she also cooks her own meals, cleans her own house and drives her own car (well). My aunty walks like a woman who has somewhere to go. She’d be right at home in any one of the Blue Zones.
Getting old doesn’t have to be a downhill slide to decrepitude. You can’t predict the future, but if you follow these healthy aging tips you’ll at least be tipping the odds in your favor.
1. TAKE THE STAIRS
Our gym is on the first floor, and I’m always gobsmacked by how many people (especially those who are young and in good shape) opt to take the lift instead of the stairs. Aunty Margaret—who, by the way, is also fluent in text speak and frequently sends me messages that read: Hope ur both well. Love u!—would be horrified.
Taking the stairs has been our m.o. for years. Even when we lived in a high rise, my wife and I would frequently walk up the twelve flights to our apartment. We did it to stay fit and active but also because the lift kept breaking down.
The are lots of benefits to taking the stairs besides not getting stuck in the elevator. Among other things, it leads to stronger joints and muscles, aids weight loss and helps our bodies produce endorphins.
Train yourself to always to take the stairs. That way, if you’re ever faced with an ‘out of order’ sign on the the elevator you’ll still be able to get where you’re going. You could also view stair climbing as an opportunity to have a mini workout.
If you have health issues, try walking one flight and then riding up the rest of the way. Approach it mindfully, and talk to your doctor if you’re unsure, but don’t underestimate your body’s ability. We’re often capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for.
2. STAY AWARE
The great thing about growing older is that you don’t care as much what other people think. When you let go of the angst of your younger years you become more comfortable in your own skin.
Unfortunately, elderly folks can take this a bit too far. They’ll interrupt, gossip too loudly and lose their table manners. This could be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s, but sometimes people view growing older as an excuse to behave poorly.
While there are things you can do to stave off dementia, there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful. Staying aware is a lot easier. Take note of how you show up in the world. Question yourself constantly. Are you courteous, compassionate and mannered? Do you treat others respectfully, regardless of their place in society?
The more you think about these things, the longer they’ll stay front-of-mind. Staying aware may not contribute directly to your physical health, but aging gracefully definitely plays a role in healthy aging.
3. EAT YOUR BEANS
The Blue Zones Diet, which comprises 14 health secrets of the world’s longest lived people, is big on beans. According to Dan Buettner, the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is about a cup of beans per day.
Instead of looking for a longevity supplement, he recommends buying beans. With good reason, too. Beans offer an array of health benefits and are especially beneficial if you’re focusing on after-40 nutrition.
They’re high in fiber, a good source of protein, packed with antioxidants and low in fat. Beans are also inexpensive and extremely versatile, which makes them easy to incorporate into your diet.
4. STAY SOCIALLY ACTIVE
The elderly often struggle with loneliness. Sadly, this is a symptom of old age. Your peer group, spouse and older family members begin passing away. It’s the cycle of life. We can sometimes get complacent as we grow older, relying on our current social circle for company.
This, I believe, is one of the reasons my aunt is still so sprightly. She’s very active in her community and makes a point of engaging with people on a regular basis. There’s a tendency among older people to not want to go out as much. They prefer to stay home and watch TV.
This is problematic on two levels. Firstly, it reduces your contact with the outside world, which in turn diminishes your ability to stay aware. If you never interact with people, how will you know if you’re behaving well?
Secondly, if you rarely go out, you won’t meet new people or make new friends. You lose the ability to hold a decent conversation. Even small talk becomes challenging. When your only point of reference is what you see on television you quickly lose grip on reality.
5. TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH
In his latest book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, longevity expert Dan Buettner says the world’s happiest people all share a number of traits, one of which is visiting the doctor and dentist for regular checkups.
Proactively managing your health is a key part of healthy aging. It’s easy to ignore when you’re younger and still in good shape, but that’s exactly when you should be focusing on your health.
Keeping your body healthy is easier and cheaper than trying to fix it when things start to go wrong. Don’t underestimate the value of seeing a dental hygienist every six months or testing for specific illnesses, such as breast cancer or diabetes, especially if they run in your family.
6. BE CAREFUL OF YOUR WORDS
Don’t buy into the myths about aging. Yes, your eyesight might deteriorate, your joints might stiffen and sex may not be as frequent, but none of that is necessarily a given.
Use your words wisely. Avoid saying things like “At my age it’s no wonder I [fill in the blank].” Instead, don’t say anything at all. Do daily eye exercises, take up Pilates or yoga, occupy your mind with brain games.
Maybe you’ll still end up with reading glasses and creaky knees, but maybe you won’t. Healthy aging is a grand adventure. You won’t avoid old age, but getting there will be a lot more fun.