It can come as a shock to us when we look in the mirror and realize we are growing older day by day. Our inner being may still feel like we are in our twenties or thirties, however, the outer shell might tell a different story. Whether you are forty or ninety, you can slow down the signs of aging with some healthy changes, both mentally and physically.
Signs of Aging
The aging process is a natural part of the way we were designed. As a young and healthy adult, your muscles and bones were strong. You stored some healthy fat, but your metabolism remained high to burn extra calories. Collagen and other important nutrients in your body were plentiful, so your hair was glossy, your skin was smooth, and your nails were strong.
Mentally, you were focused. Whether at school, work, or playing games, you were sharp. Perhaps you rarely forgot a phone number or a birthday. Maybe you soared in your area of expertise because you could remember important details.
With the combination of the aging process and your lifestyle, you may have noticed your physical and mental health declining, perhaps as early as your twenties or thirties.
Effects and signs of aging include:
- The muscles and bones weaken.
- The body becomes less flexible.
- The digestive system has trouble breaking down food.
- The regions of the brain that control memory become less active.
- The heart works harder to pump blood through the body.
- Skin becomes noticeably thinner and loses firmness.
- Incontinence may become an issue due to changes in the prostate (men) and bladder.
- Hearing and vision changes are more likely to occur.
- Metabolism slows and the body begins to store more fat causing weight gain.
- Vaginal dryness from the lack of natural oils can create pain during sex for women.
- Men may experience erectile dysfunction.
However, you can slow down the effects of aging by making some lifestyle changes.
Tips for Staying Physically Healthy
We can’t completely stop the aging process, but we can slow it down and perhaps even reverse aging in some areas. A few tips for staying physically healthy while successfully aging include:
- Exercise for heart health and to strengthen the bones and muscles. If you are not used to working out, try parking a bit further away while on errands or walking the perimeter of the grocery store or the mall several times before checking out your purchases. Walking alone provides heart-healthy benefits, so be sure to add in body-weight resistance exercises, like pushups or use dumbbells when you can, for increased strength.
- Eat a proper diet that includes protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Studies have shown an increased risk in cancer and other illnesses when we ingest foods loaded with artificial sweeteners, sugars, preservatives, and other chemicals. Consider speaking to a nutritionist if you are having trouble planning delicious healthy meals.
- Drink more water. Most people do not consume enough water daily, yet constipation and dry skin are common complaints. To figure out how many ounces you need for hydration and to keep things running smoothly in the digestive system, drink half your body weight in ounces each day. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, then you will want to try to drink 90 ounces of water daily.
- Take a multivitamin and other supplements as needed. Due to a diet of fast food and added sugars as well as new farming practices, the food we eat may not be as nutritious as we would expect. Give yourself a cheap insurance policy by adding a good multivitamin. Check with your physician about any supplements you may need such as Calcium plus Vitamin D for strong bones, extra Vitamin C for immune defense, or melatonin for improved sleep.
- Practice good dental hygiene. Gum disease and infections are more likely to surface later in life. Establish a habit of brushing and flossing twice daily. Speak to your dentist about any mouthwashes or whitening methods they recommend.
- Follow up on all annual doctor’s appointments. At the beginning of each new year, make sure you’ve written down appointments for your health. This should include your annual physical exam, mammogram, dental appointments, prostate exam, and gastroenterology exams. Preventative care is the best medicine.
- Find ways to manage stress. Holding on to stress can cause physical problems such as headaches, sore muscles, and lower immunity. Make a list of some of your favorite hobbies and take the time to enjoy them. This could be collecting and reading books by your favorite author, journaling, gardening, or taking up a new outdoor activity like golf.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette smoke can lead to lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and other illnesses. These diseases can shorten your lifespan and quicken the aging process. Speak to your physician about ways you can break the addiction to nicotine.
- Stop abusing alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications. Any chemical substance abuse will hasten the aging process. Seek treatment right away to break the substance’s hold over you.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule. The older we get it may seem like we need less sleep to function, but our bodies need sleep to recharge and repair. Restful sleep helps our bodies repair cells, blood vessels, and the heart. Getting enough sleep is a great way to manage that extra stress as well.
- Keep within a healthy weight range. The effects of obesity can lead to a variety of diseases and illnesses that can shorten your lifespan like Type II Diabetes. Consult with your physician about healthy ways to lose weight. You may want to also consider speaking with a professional therapist about weight loss if you feel your weight problems stem from unresolved issues.
- Practice flexibility and balance exercises daily. The risk of falls is greater as we age. You can lower your risk by practicing balance and flexibility exercises. This includes yoga and Pilates. Functional training exercises can also strengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion, both of which are important to keep you from being injured in a fall.
- Cut back on caffeine and other bladder irritants. Caffeine can wreak havoc on your bladder at night. If incontinence is becoming an issue, try to stop drinking any caffeinated beverages after 4 PM. You can also practice Kegel exercises several times a day to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This is especially important for women who have carried through several pregnancies. If your incontinence is severe, your doctor may prescribe medication.
- Create a healthy skin regimen. Wrinkles and dry skin do come with aging as the natural oils and collagen decrease. If you haven’t started before now, consider a skincare regimen that includes a cleanser, mask or scrub, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Both men and women need to care for their skin especially if exposed to the sun a great deal during the day.
- Confide in a primary care physician about any concerns over sex. For women, sex can be painful if vaginal dryness is an issue. For men, erections might not be as firm or last as long as they should. Both issues can cause problems in the intimacy portion of a relationship. Your doctor may prescribe medication; however, you should also consider speaking to a relationship counselor about other ways to keep the intimacy strong between you and your spouse during this time.
- Take up games and puzzles that challenge your mind. As we age, our minds get into a routine. Just like with our physical bodies, we need to give the brain something challenging to do. Word searches, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, chess, and card games require you to think and are fun to play.
It may seem overwhelming to try to make all these lifestyle changes at once. Choose one or two and commit a month to incorporate them into your routine. Once you build the habit, like eating healthier and moving every day, it will be easier to stack more healthy habits into the next month. As you start to see results, you will gain momentum, and this will encourage you to keep striving toward successful aging.
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