If you’re reading this, you’re aging. Like it or not, none of us can pass on that hand. And, as long as you HAVE to age, do whatever you can, to do it well. The main theme driving a lot of “graceful aging” programs involves choosing to create a good quality of life for as long as you can.
In my early forties, I started running ultras. My crazy thirties were behind me and my mind felt settled enough to allow me to run with more calm and clarity for longer periods of time. My body and mind seemed to strike a deal where both enjoyed the challenge of those longer endurance events.
But, turning forty-five, subtle changes in my body began popping up. My metabolism slowed down to where I could no longer eat my usual amount of food without gaining weight. I was no longer running any “Personal Bests.” I had to train harder just to maintain my fitness status quo. And, for the first time in my adult life, I felt like taking a nap. Does any of this sound familiar?
In our late forties, our bodies begin making more noticeable changes: women‘s bodies begin producing less estrogen and losing more bone mass. Thus the recommendation for regular weight-bearing activities. Men and women produce less testosterone, which reduces your body’s ability to maintain muscle mass. The advice of physiotherapists is to adopt a resistance/strength training regimen. And, as your ability to move diminishes, the body requires some form of active stretching (yoga, Pilates, T’ai chi, etc.) to maintain a good range of motion as you age.
In your fifties, all of those things that might have been only nuances before, are now facts of life. This is compounded, unfortunately, by a plethora of new things to be aware of, and deal with. Whether you attribute it to accumulated wisdom, a mid-life crisis or finally sensing your own mortality, many of us at fifty begin to feel the need to maintain or improve our quality of life. It also becomes even more apparent that if you want to maintain that good quality of life as you age, you must become more mindful as the years add up.
Here are some mental and physical suggestions for making your fifties a positive experience and an adventure in mindfulness:
- Maintain muscle tone and bone density: As your body slows down and has less ability to produce muscle mass and bone density, accept it. It’s not the time to push. Use finesse (attention to technique) and channel the flow of Chi through breathwork, mental focus and relaxation to keep your mind healthy and your body moving well.
- Running and walking are both excellent (and convenient) ways to keep your muscles toned and your bones strong. Running 3-4 days per week is ideal.
- Pay particular attention to your technique while walking and running. Since your body is not as strong, you have to make up for your loss of strength by learning to walk and run more efficiently. This is, in part, what ChiRunning and ChiWalking are designed for.
- Your weekday workouts should be short and a mix of light speed intervals, easy hills and technique drills (done more for muscle tone, technique and range of motion (ROM) than anything else).
- Once a week do a longer run, building up to whatever distance leaves you comfortably fatigued. This run should be done at a very comfortable training pace. A great way to do a long run is to mix in some Run/Walk intervals.
- Hiking is also a good way to cross-train for running. You can use trekking poles to add some upper-body strengthening while you’re at it.
- Start Weight Training: If you haven’t already, start a light weight-training regimen with hand weights or on some sort of universal gym equipment. Have a personal trainer show you which exercises will assist you in your walking or running. Increase these workouts in the number of reps, and not necessarily in weight.
- Maintain Good Range of Motion: Find a good Pilates coach, T’ai Chi master, or AIS coach (Active Isolated Stretching). All of these systems promote dynamic stretching where you stretch and strengthen your muscles while improving your range of motion!
- Eat wisely and adjust your diet to meet the needs of an aging body. Be very intentional with your diet as your metabolism slows.
- Avoid processed foods that are low in Chi, but high in salt, sugar and saturated fats.
- Foods rich in vitamins and other nutrients help maintain good brain health
- Antioxidants: vibrantly-hued fruits and vegetables help slow the damage done by free-radicals which can accelerate aging and put oxidative stress on your cells.
- Mono and polyunsaturated fats improve levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and protect brain cells: Coconut, Olive or Avocado oils are great sources.
We all know how the brain starts losing function as we age. Diseases like Alzheimers and dementia can in many cases be slowed or avoided by taking the right steps early on in one’s life. The saying, “use it or lose it” holds especially true when we’re talking about the brain! Here are some things to do that can help:
- Challenge Yourself: Mentally stimulating activities like math, puzzles, memory games or learning a new language or musical instrument, may help reverse cognitive decline.
- Teach a class or take a class: This is a great way to keep your brain active and be social at the same time.
- Listen to Music: A Stanford study in 2007 showed that listening to music may sharpen the brain’s ability to anticipate events and stay focused.
- Be Social: Social interaction requires you to engage areas of the brain that are used in many cognitive tasks.
- Get Moving: Of course, exercise is at the top of the list to help your aging body, but it’s just as important when it comes to keeping your mind sharp!
This is only a shortlist of ways to greet your fifties with open arms instead of fear and dread. The main emphasis of ChiWalking, ChiRunning, and ChiLiving is to help you create a higher quality of life, at any age. Instating healthy habits will only improve your quality of life as your years add up.
And the time to start, regardless of your age, is NOW!