Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not just the absence of disease and infirmity.
World Health Organization
The evidence is mounting! It is increasingly clear that many of the symptoms of mind and body deterioration previously thoughtto be caused by getting older are more a result of lifestyle and not biological aging.
This new evidence makes the case that aspects of the lifestyle we adopted in the 20th century contribute to decline rather than health and well being.
Here are 7 essential themes for promoting a life of well being now and over an extended future.
The Whole YOU
Historically the study of mind, body and social relationships were conducted by specialists concerned about one part of complete health. Now we are discovering important interactions. Exercise affects the brain and cognitive abilities. Social interactions reduce stress on the cardiovascular system and they can open the mind to new ideas. Of course, mental abilities and emotions make it all worthwhile.
Memory loss and declining cognitive abilities are often thought to be the norm for getting older. While mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are on the increase – it doesn’t have to be this way!
In a healthy brain, the brain makes new cells and new neuronal connections that support learning and memory throughout the lifespan. This neuroplasticity can be maintained and even enhanced by making lifestyle changes.
Most of us accept that exercise is important for weigh control and prevention of cardiovascular decline. Now there is strong evidence that exercise stimulates neuroplasticity and prolongs our DNA’s role in cellular health, throughout the body.
But it is not just those trips to the gym that are important. Most Americans have become too sedentary throughout the day, which contributes to a host of problems – even if one makes regular trips to the gym.
What You Eat
The food pyramid and a Mediterranean diet are good starting points for overall health. But for a rich and extended life, we need to limit our intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates that undermine both physical health and mental acuity. At the same time, increasing our intake of antioxidants and foods that reduce inflammation contribute to health and well being. But there are other serious considerations about eating that are associated with taste and mood.
Outlook and Emotions
Optimists live longer in part because they have developed a robust ability to adapt and thrive to a changing world. But even our emotional balance affects well being. Negative emotions like anxiety, stress, depression and closed-mindedness generally increase with age, and all contribute to health problems. Yet positive emotions can prevent negative emotions or cause them to dissipate quickly. They also have longer term impacts by lowering negative stress responses.
Lifelong learning is good advice for maintaining mental faculties – but it is important that it includes activities that stimulate the brain to adapt, see new possibilities and learn new skills. This “new way” learning forces the brain to innovate, which stimulates neuroplasticity.
Socially engaged people live longer – yet loneliness, alienation and depression are on the rise, especially in older adults. The effects of social support on life expectancy, or lack of it, is right up there with the impacts of obesity, cigarette smoking, stress and physical activity.
Living55plus.com is an ongoing discussion of these topics and especially the everyday ways to take action. Join in the discussion and share your insights and experiences.
To jumpstart taking action, download our white paper, Everyday Ways for a Rich and Extended Life.