The Art and Science of Graceful Aging
When it comes to aging gracefully, we all know what we should do: Don’t smoke or drink to excess, eat vegetables, drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough sleep. Taking care of ourselves is just as important. There is both an art and a science to graceful aging, and it requires time, commitment and just a little effort.
What is considered old? A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center, Growing Old in America, Expectations vs. Reality, found that younger people ages 18 to 29 believe that people are old at 60, and about half the youngsters say they feel their age. Less than half of respondents ages 30 and older agree. Middle-aged respondents had the threshold closer to 70, and respondents ages 65 and older said that they were not old until 74, with fully 60 percent having reported that they feel younger than their age, and 32 percent said they felt exactly their age. Only 3 percent felt older than their chronological age.
There is an important distinction between aging and old age. According to author and blogger Tim Challies, old age is the position, while aging is the process—a long-term commitment of small changes, or baby steps—that over time determine the result.
Stress is a killer. And it ages us. Chronic stress accelerates premature aging by shortening DNA telomeres. Telomeres are the end sequences of chromosomes. The telomere protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration and from fusing with neighboring chromosomes. The lengths of individual telomeres are indicators of both biological and cellular aging. Many studies have associated chronic stress, from anxiety, depression, social isolation or unemployment, with excessive telomere shortening and, ultimately, accelerated aging.
Retinol is a yellow carotenoid, a pigment found in green and yellow vegetables, egg yolk and fish-liver oil. In humans and other mammals, it is also known as vitamin A. Retinoids are the vitamin A derivative that stimulate development of new skin cells and collagen. Collagen is a protein, the most abundant in our bodies, that provides resilience to our skin and structure to the tissues beneath, keeping them full and wrinkle-free.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in nuts, seeds and certain fish, can lower elevated triglyceride levels; improve inflammation and the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs; benefit depression and the effects of antidepressants; and lubricate all the body structures that need to function smoothly, including the joints, eyes, digestive tract, and even the skin and hair.
Staying active is staying young. In studies, older adults who remain physically active function physiologically similar to their younger counterparts. So, no, running does not cause sagging and wrinkles from bouncing. Whatever keeps us moving is likely good for us.
Poor-quality sleep increases the signs of aging around the face and makes us feel less attractive, according to a 2015 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Chronic poor sleep quality increases physical signs of aging, as well as lowers subjective satisfaction with appearance. The study participants that were allowed to naturally sleep a full seven to nine hours experienced significantly improved recovery from erythema, or redness, following exposure to ultraviolet light, compared to participants who slept less than five hours. The same reduced sleep quality diminishes the effectiveness of the skin barrier to naturally contend with the damaging effects of the sun. Beauty sleep can slow aging.
“Retirement has always been a time when we see people withdraw from their roles,” says Dr. Pauline Abbott, director emerita of the California State University Fullerton Institute of Gerontology. Some older people fall victim to depression and a sense of meaninglessness.
Aging affects everyone. Accepting the inevitability of aging as natural change, rather than an inherent crisis, is important to psychological health and wellness. Mobility becomes more of a challenge as we age, and climbing stairs or even walking distances grows more laborious. But accepting change while remaining active can help us to look and feel more youthful well into our elder years. We need to anticipate that changes are inevitable and take those changes in stride as much as possible, in a manner that people that think rigidly cannot. Planning for purposeful activities before retirement is part of that process.
Each of us finds meaning differently, so we must ask ourselves, “What is important to me?” be it traveling, finding new hobbies or social groups, following spiritual or academic growth, or recapturing time and memories with family or lifelong friends.
Ultimately, how we cope with and manage change helps determine our individualized experiences with growing older, following our passions and aging gracefully.
Dr. Cory Schultz is a doctor of traditional naturopathy, specializing in weight management, cleansing and detoxification, nutrition and fitness, therapeutic massage and general wellness, with offices in Chicago and Ottawa, Illinois. For more information, call 312-848-3987 or visit DrCorySchultz.com.
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