5 Thoughts on Active Aging…

Did you see that news item on Facebook? Virginia Tech is going to house some students at a nearby Holiday Inn this fall, because they don’t have enough space in their dorms for everyone. When I was in college, um, (cough-ahem) just a few years ago, my school had to do the same thing. There were just too many in our freshman class.

We are the Baby Boom generation… we are many… and we want to stay happy & healthy as we get older!

Everybody talks about active aging, but not everybody knows what that’s supposed to look like. Some things, such as fine wine, get better & better with age! While the grocery store magazine rack offers all kinds of tips for looking 20 forever, is that really what all of us want?

Here are some thoughts about staying active, whether you’re a Baby Boomer or not.

Keep moving, in whatever ways work for you. Don’t limit yourself.

However you choose to stay active, make sure it’s something you enjoy. Being miserable while you move is not a great way to stay motivated!

If salsa dancing, kickboxing, or Zumba sounds like your style, don’t worry about the fact that the rest of your friends are more into yoga or golf. Don’t let assumptions about your age keep you away from the judo dojo, skating rink, or climbing wall.

The other part of “what works for you” is feasibility. Walking is something you can do right on your own street, or even at the local big-box store if the weather is uncooperative. No fancy equipment or gym membership necessary!

If you’re really into dance but your joints don’t appreciate the intensity, think about water aerobics or even a synchronized swimming group. Our local rec centers, the Y, or 24-hour gyms have lots of classes and options to choose from.

Not every health and wellness issue is about “just getting older.” Ask questions and get honest answers.

Sometimes, we just assume that physical issues are a normal part of getting older. But just because people say that, doesn’t necessarily make it so!

For years people have passed around myths like the idea that muscle loss is an inevitable part of aging. But people of all ages may be able to maintain or build strength & muscle. Flexibility & cardiovascular fitness don’t have to fall by the wayside either!

Of course, our bodies do change over time. This is where the asking-questions part comes in. So ask your doctor, personal trainer, massage therapist (hello there!), physical therapist, or whatever experts you have at hand, and get the answers & advice you need.

Don’t just ignore how you feel.

You know what that means for you. Those headaches that seem to be getting worse, the stress, the way you feel out of breath carrying groceries up the stairs.

If you see a physician, you might find that it’s actually something straightforward. Maybe all you need is a change of medication, better posture when lifting, or a massage.

Maybe it’s something a bit more involved, like a change in your activity level, eating habits, or other physical factors. But knowledge is power, and ignoring the issue just guarantees you don’t have the power to make those choices for yourself.

Health doesn’t just mean physical health, and “active” doesn’t just mean physically active.

So often we think about health and wellness as an issue of the body, and forget about the importance of mental health as well. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65. This often goes undiagnosed for the same reason physical illnesses do: people assume that these feelings are a normal part of aging, and so they don’t seek help.

Being active in a variety of ways also helps fend off depression and anxiety. Strong friendships, regular touch, physical activity (yeah, that again), and working towards goals are all beneficial for maintaining mental health.

Some ways that you can keep active & engaged in your community: Volunteer for a cause that you care about. Take a class or workshop to learn a new skill. (Our public libraries have tons of free or low-cost classes! Check their websites to see their schedule.)

If you’re feeling depressed or down, take an active role in getting the right treatment; talk therapy, support groups, or medication can be a huge help.

From my own experiences with depression, I can tell you that you are not alone.

Being active and independent doesn’t mean that you never ask for assistance.

Everybody needs help. Kids need help. Parents need help. Athletes and firefighters and librarians and piano teachers all need help. It can be scary to feel vulnerable.

What kind of help would keep you feeling active and healthy: a walking buddy… a lift to the gym… an encouraging phone call once a week?

Maybe a professional could help. A personal trainer, counselor, or coach might be just what you need. And if you don’t feel like you click with the first one that you meet with, that’s OK. A different health professional might be a better match for your needs… keep looking.

Your community center, place of worship, library, gym, coffee shop, or other gathering-place might have resources for you to connect with like-minded people. That’s a way to take action and advocate for your own wellness, no matter what your age is!

Virginia Beach, VA, USA

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