Bending the Aging Curve through Attitude and Movement
As we age, our physical capacities decline. The word is ATROPHY. Along with this morbid word we also know that aging brings turkey necks, senior moments and alligator shoes. A joke I recently heard: Two men are talking at Senior Social Hour and the one tells the other, “I love your new alligator shoes”. The man looks down only to realize he forgot to wear shoes to Senior Social Hour and is staring down at his bare feet.
Whether you are aging from your 40’s to 50’s or your 70’s to 80’s, each of us face the good and the bad that goes along with adding another candle to the birthday cake at some point in time. I like stories with a happy ending so please keep reading.
Let’s dig in to two separate but interdependent requirements for aging well. The first is a person’s attitude. When we look at the science on aging it is easy to feel discouraged, but the attitude we take towards aging is really, really important. I suggest that you start each morning recognizing three small or big things you are thankful for. Starting your day off with a thankful heart has shown to help people across the age range be more hopeful, more agreeable and less stressed. I love the words by Oprah Winfrey on gratitude: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you focus on what you do not have, you will never, ever have enough.” Once we have an attitude of gratitude, our view on aging will change from hopeless and inevitable to I can meet this challenge head on!
Equally important to a positive attitude is a proactive attitude. Aging well requires action. The moral of the story is that we need to do our part. If we intentionally start our day with a grateful attitude it will flow into seeing aging as a challenge we CAN meet. Louis Zamperini, famous survivalist, war-hero and Olympian sums it up:
People tell me, you are such an optimist”. Am I an optimist? An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist calls it half empty. A survivalist is practical. He says, “Call it what you want, but just fill the (damn) glass.” I believe in filling the glass.-Louis Zamperini
I didn’t ever know this man but would have loved to have a conversation over dinner with him. I can almost hear Mr. Zamperini add the word “damn” to this quote as his proactive nature and never-giving-up-attitude saved his life on numerous occasions. We can’t win the battle if we don’t ever make the decision to fight it.
The two areas of movement I believe are crucial to slow down aging are maintaining flexibility and muscle mass. Our flexibility will decline as we age due to connective tissue restructuring. Declines in flexibility are associated with reduced ability to perform activities of daily living and increase probability of falls. Once flexibility decreases, our risk of injury increases. I like performing dynamic stretching and foam rolling to iron out my muscles prior to my workouts. Gone are the days of jumping into a workout cold or using the first part of your workout as your warm-up. Intentional warm up and dynamic stretching are necessary to prepare the muscles to work. After my workout, I like to spend some time in static stretching. The older you are, the longer you should hold the stretch.
Move weight around to maintain or increase muscle mass. As we age, we lose muscle size and strength, called sarcopenia. Resistance training is an absolute must. The articles on the benefits of resistance training could fill up a small warehouse but they all boil down to maintaining independence and control. Who would not want that? The more muscle you have the better your body composition and the higher your bone density and metabolism. Resistance can be provided by machines, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, water resistance and lastly one of my favorites, bodyweight. At Lizl Kotz Performance, we start our clients on a good flexibility program because we want them to strengthen through a full range. We then incorporate functional strengthening into our resistance program such as moving around gallon jugs filled with water, picking up pennies and getting up from a low sitting surface just to name a few. We love our aging clients (I am one myself) and want them to live each day to its fullest potential.