My grandmother will be 84 this year and boy am I envious of her energy. Truthfully, she spends more time at the gym than I do and her yoga pants look better on her than on me. I may only be in my mid-twenties but I have recently had my fair share of physical injuries. Spending a good deal of time at the chiropractors’ office has given me time to consider that no matter what stage of life you are in, taking care of your body is the largest indicator of how you will age. My grandmother is the person who can proudly get in free at many events just due to her age (she even skied with me in her 70’s). I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have good genes in my family but my grandmother didn’t age gracefully out of luck, she worked hard at it. It’s sort of humorous to hear a lady of her age to talk about how she can’t make plans because she has to go get a workout in, but there is a method to her madness.
The reason taking care of our bodies is so difficult is because making healthy changes doesn’t usually result in immediate satisfaction. It can take years to reap the benefits of our health-related choices, or we may never even notice the pay-off. It is hard to find satisfaction in things we may never truly understand how to appreciate. You might not fully value your health until it has been compromised, but you should take stock in what good health you do have. It’s never too late to implement healthy habits into your life! Here are three habits my grandmother never compromised, and why they actually work.
Watch extra weight around your mid-section
I think we can all be honest here and address the obvious: we probably won’t get any better looking as we age. If our looks were going to forever stay the same, we wouldn’t need wrinkle creams or hair loss prescriptions. With natural aging our metabolism will also slowdown, which can make it easier to gain weight. I always have to chuckle at myself when my grandmother informs me that she is going “on a diet” for a few weeks to lose some weight around her belly. I roll my eyes and tell her to stop obsessing over a few pounds and focus on eating healthy, but her diligent attention to detail of her dietary habits have kept her in great health. Studies show that overweight or not, having an excess of abdominal fat is associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease or other causes than those who do not have central fat.1Keep an eye on the type of fat you consume in your diet; avoid trans fats and keep saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your diet.2Focus on whole foods and avoid packaged snacks and desserts, and limit the amount of fatty meat in your diet.
Don’t stop moving
Growing up, my grandmother always had me chasing her around. We took spin classes together, Zumba classes, lifted weights, danced at a country bar, and even joined a line dancing team. My grandmother is also the reason the phrase “shop until you drop” was invented. She would take me to the mall twice a year to get new clothes and I could expect nothing shorter than a twelve-hour day, sitting down only to grab a quick bite to eat. I will never forget her telling me her secret when I was little. She would say, “I never wanted to be the grandma that was content with sitting around and knitting all day.” The number of benefits from engaging in physical activity are countless. In regard to aging, physical activity can result in a reduced risk of developing a disability, lower blood pressure, improve balance, and increase flexibility.3Because bone density and muscle mass also decrease with age, engaging in resistance exercise is also extremely beneficial. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Stay motivated with friends
Don’t underestimate the power of great friendship. An active social life keeps you young! Studies have proven that many physical benefits are directly linked to active social lives. Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, has studied some of these effects. In one study, over 1,100 seniors without dementia were followed over a 12-year period. The study found that cognitive decline was 70 percent less in those who had frequent social encounters than those who did not, a significant difference. “When you use your brain and body the way it was intended—as it evolved—you age better,” says James. “We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another.”4Don’t be afraid to get out and get social: join a book club, volunteer at a food kitchen, or start up a walking group in the mornings. The possibilities are endless. Aging is inevitable, so make the most of it!
- Belly fat boosts risk of dying of heart disease.Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/research-were-watching-belly-fat-boosts-risk-of-dying-of-heart-disease. Published January 2016. Accessed August 31, 2018.
- The Skinny on Visceral Fat. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gim/core_resources/Patient%20Handouts/Handouts_May_2012/The%20Skinny%20on%20Visceral%20Fat.pdf. Accessed August 31, 2018.
- The Necessity of Exercise: Physical Activity and Aging. University of Southern California. https://gerontology.usc.edu/resources/infographics/necessity-exercise-physical-activity-and-aging/. Accessed August 31, 2018.
- How Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy. Berkeley University of California. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_social_connections_keep_seniors_healthy. Accessed August 31, 2018.