As featured in North Hawaii News June 10, 2016
How many of you remember, as a child, how much older or younger your siblings or cousins seemed in comparison to you? A few years difference in age for young people feels enormous, yet as we grow into adults that gap dramatically shrinks.
The age gap seems to reappear as people enter their later years. Picture someone in their 70s, and you may envision a retiree who is actively involved with their grandchildren and contributing to their community as a volunteer or business owner. Jump ahead to a person in their 80s, and you may imagine someone experiencing health problems and making plans to move closer to their children.
This is a broad generalization as there are many older adults who are quite agile and active into their 90s and 100s, however the average body does experience dramatic changes in the final decades.
The natural shifts in the body of an older adult leads to heightened self-awareness. It is helpful to accept and acknowledge the new sensations one is experiencing and make appropriate adjustments to remain as safe and independent as possible.
Many of us are haunted by self-perceptions that we may be old if we can no longer do the things we used to do. Shining the light on that fear and seeing it as something to become comfortable with is the first step to taking the power back.
The key is to understand the changes that can come with normal aging and improve them with patience and lifestyle adjustments. For example, hormones change in quantity can lead to light-headedness and sudden drops in blood pressure. Loss of balance and/or the possible onset of osteoarthritis affect movement. Add in the slowing of the thought process because of nervous system changes and each of us will have our own special cocktail of issues to be proactive about.
Physical activity is the best strategy to get the blood flowing throughout the brain. This is critical to brain health and also improves muscle tone, mood and flexibility. I have seen firsthand these positive effects of the Kupuna CrossFit program on our day center clients.
Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, wrote a book called “Make Your Brain Smarter.” She has also done a TEDx talk in which she gives strategies to improve brain function for healthy aging.
Dr. Chapman suggests that we maintain our focus on one issue at a time, zeroing in on the most important issues, and getting off auto pilot. She says, “when you’re hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.” She also encourages we use the various information we take in each day to form abstract and creative ideas, as we are “wired to be inspired.”
The sooner that you implement these healthy habits, the more likely you’ll be to maintain them throughout your later years. Recognizing the age gap, rather than being in denial of it, will open your mind to the numerous options we have throughout our lives to put the odds in our favor and improve the way we age.