We all have a personal definition of aging, and most of us can pinpoint the exact moment we realized we may have lost a step or two. For me, that revelation hit in my late 30s.
It was at my annual physical when my doc asked me to describe the quality of my sleep. I laughed and said “what’s sleep?” She didn’t laugh, but began really quizzing me about my sleep patterns. I told her that I assumed my slumber issues would resolve when my kids got older, to which she naturally inquired, “how old are the kids now?” I sheepishly replied truthfully, “8 and 9 years old” and she replied, “your sleep problems are not going to get better.” Ouch!
It was at that moment that I realized this was not going to get better without some effort on my part. I was at that annoying age where problems and issues stop healing on their own. I had to help my body along the correct path.
My options were simple. Take sleeping aids which could lead to more problems and dependencies, or accept that I had to take a more active role in the aging process. I joined a gym that week and began to exercise.
This was tough to manage. At the time our daughter was a nationally ranked gymnast and had to practice 20+hours a week, with travel to competitions. Our son was a competitive rock climber with a practice and travel schedule of his own. They both had homework and I was a tenured professor with a full teaching schedule to maintain.
In the beginning I was only able to fit in a few hours a week. But I immediately started seeing and feeling the benefits! I was falling asleep easier at night, and more importantly, sleeping until the alarm sounded the next morning. I found it easier to work exercise into our tight schedules and realized that my overall mood increased as well. In fact, if I missed more than a few consecutive days in the gym, I was grumpy and in a foul mood. Exercise had improved my mental health as well as my physical state.
There are numerous studies that demonstrate a positive correlation between maintaining good health, and the quality of life through the aging process. And, the good news is that it is not too late to start earning these benefits.
Any physical activity will help reduce the overall levels of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to heart disease, decreased mental functions and even depression. Inflammation accumulates in the body as a normal by product of the aging process and the body is slower at removing those molecules the longer we live.
It makes sense! How many times have you heard that our metabolism slows down as we age? That means we are slower at removing toxins and internally generated molecules, our cells need our help.
What we eat and how much we move are the two most important factors to lowering our overall levels of inflammation. Coincidentally, regulating diet and exercise also correlates to higher cognitive levels as we age too!
Limiting process foods and consuming less saturated fats are crucial to reducing overall inflammation. Foods that help lower inflammation (as well as cholesterol and assist in lowering blood pressure) include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, as well as consuming omega-3-fatty acids found in salmon and tuna. Just about any plant based protein will be beneficial as well, such as beans and nuts.
Once you have the proper fuel, it is time to consider exercise! Even moderate physical activity will earn huge returns on your health investment. The goal is to strike a balance between moving enough to lower inflammation but not to overtrain to the point of generating more inflammation. Confused yet?
Moderate activity, which is any low impact activity, will help your heart and kidneys flush out inflammatory molecules. Yoga, walking, hiking, swimming and cycling are great activities that will not tax your muscles or joints.
That means you do not have to run a marathon, become a triathlete or perform at an Olympic level to stay young! The government guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. That may sound like a lot, but here are some tips:
- Break up the 150 minutes into 30 minute intervals. That is just 5 times a week where you could be walking your dog, going on a hike, riding a bike, swimming-all low impact for bad joints or just getting started.
- If you already have a fitness base, try out interval training. This is a great way to get in a lot of effort in a shorter time span.
- Try to avoid activities that cause inflammation, at least until you are stronger and fitter. Don’t start out doing HIIT circuit work, or jump into the latest fitness trend, until you have conditioned your body and are stronger.
- Your body will become accustomed to your new fitness level, called plateaus. Gradually build up your fitness level. It won’t take long for you to be able to easily walk or hike 5 miles. When it is, you start jogging!
Bedlam and Daisies, A wonderful blog from my friend Amy Lyon recently used this quote that I “borrowed”, which sums it up perfectly.
Invest in yourself today, you are worth the time 😊💕
If you want more of a scientific explanation, this is a great academic article,