There are a number of myths regarding aging. Some people may mistakenly believe that aging inevitably involves getting sick or disabled, while others may think that all adults face memory loss in their later years. Even more people may think that once you reach a certain age there is less that you can contribute to society and that you are done learning. All of these beliefs are absolutely false. In fact, many people find that the years following retirement are filled with health, vitality, and meaning. Since we are all going to get to those golden years eventually, here are a few tips to consider that may help to make that stage of life some of the best years you’ll ever have.
- Keep your brain active. In doing so, you’ll stave off memory-loss illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia and foster executive function. Try word games and recall exercises. For example, find five red objects during a walk in the neighborhood and recall them when back home. Routine limits brain stimulation. Introduce new foods or new ways of eating the same food. For example, replace canned peaches with freshly sliced ones. Also, try taking a different route to the grocery store or shopping center.
- Maintain a balancing act. In addition to exercises that build strength and improve flexibility and cardiovascular endurance, make sure to add balance activities to the daily routine. Good balance requires maintaining a center of gravity over the base of support. Tai chi, yoga, walking on challenging surfaces and water exercises all enhance overall balance. Dance like there’s no tomorrow – older adults getting regular physical exercise are 60 percent less likely to get dementia. Exercise increases oxygen to the brain and releases a protein that strengthens cells and neurons. Dance involves all of the above plus the cerebral activity present in learning and memory.
- Fuel your body to remain strong and active. As you age, your digestive system tends to slow down, and as a result, foods that are high in fiber are of special importance. At the same time, older adults are more susceptible to dehydration, so it is important that you drink a lot of water every day. In addition, don’t let meal times become boring or lonely—make an effort to make your food look and taste good even if you are only cooking for one or two. Seek out other adults to spend meal time with so that you can enjoy social interaction while you are enjoying your food.
- Volunteer to give your life meaning and purpose. As you help others, you can feel a greater gratitude for the things that you have and a greater connection to the people around you. No matter where you live, there are sure to be boundless volunteer opportunities. Visit a local elementary school for opportunities to reach out to the children in your community to help them to learn and succeed. Local government and non-profit agencies are also often in great need of help. Contact hospitals in your area for more ideas on how you can serve.
- Become an active player in your health care. Most of our health is not controlled by the health care system but by our own actions, our environment, our genes, and social factors. In addition, physicians are not perfect; medical errors do happen. The more patients participate in their own health care, the more satisfied they tend to be with the care they receive. Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes. You are your own best advocate. Contact your primary care practitioner for an annual physical or whenever you have a concern about your health, and go to those appointments prepared. Bring a list of your current prescription and non-prescription medications, including herbal supplements; keep a list of your health concerns; and, most importantly, ask questions!
The possibilities and adventures that await as you enter your golden years are endless. Seek out new experiences and enjoy the opportunities that you never had time to pursue before. By doing so, you can make the later years of your life some of the most exciting, meaningful years of you have ever experienced.
Kym Hance, CMC, is client care services/aging life care manager at Herzog Law Firm, P.C. in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Certified by the National Association of Certified Care Managers, she provides an array of services to the aging community and her primary focus is helping seniors age gracefully with their dignity intact. For more information about your life planning needs, call (518) 465-7581 or visit HerzogLaw.com.