Aging is a fact of life. No matter what you do or how you try to avoid it, it’s coming. I never really thought about aging until well into my thirties. In fact, I didn’t really begin to feel the effects of aging until my mid forties. I always believed because I take such good care of myself, aging wouldn’t happen to me or, at least, it wouldn’t be very noticeable. Ha! Oh, to be young and naive.
No matter how good you care for yourself, no matter how good your genes are, no matter what you eat or what exercise you do, you, my friend, like every other human, will age. It’s how God designed life and we can’t change it, but we can do things to age well.
Of course, there are many things to make this process go well, but since this is a blog and you have things to do, I’ve narrowed it down to what I believe are the 5 most important things.
- Cardio Exercise
Cardio exercise has gotten a bad rap in recent years thanks in part to social media. Some of the most popular fitness accounts on Instagram and Facebook are bodybuilders or figure competitors whose primary focus is heavy-duty weight training. Cardio is often dissed and lifting heavy is praised like the second coming. Now, I love weight training (it’s my second key in this list), but to have a balanced life and to age well, our bodies need heart-pumping cardio. Cardiovascular exercise burns calories, which helps to keep us lean. It improves heart function. Your heart is a muscle and needs to be worked to stay strong and operate well. Cardio releases “feel good” chemicals that can help with depression and stress. The list goes on, but suffice it to say, cardio is a must for aging well.
- Weight Training
Weight Training (also called resistance or strength training) is SO important when it comes to aging well for many reasons. Of course, strength training makes you look better. Many women think weight training will make them bulky, but that’s not the case. Muscles are smaller than fat, so no matter what the scale says, as you gain muscle, you look smaller. Also, as we age, we lose muscle mass, which slows our metabolism and causes weight gain. Strength training helps to stop that muscle loss helping to keep our weight in check. It also helps to stop and even reverse bone loss. Don’t be scared by what you see on social media. You do not have to lift insane amounts of weight to get these benefits. In my opinion, to age our best, we have to protect our joints and lifting too heavy can lead to problems down the road. When I’m doing my weight training (and my cardio, for that matter), I’m not just thinking about my current body, but also about my body 10, 20, 30 years from now. I am careful not to overdo it because I want my joints to stay healthy throughout my lifetime.
- Flexibility Training
As we age, our flexibility decreases making daily tasks such as bending, reaching and even walking more difficult. Staying flexible helps our mobility and allows us to stay active. Yoga is part of my weekly fitness regimen, but if that’s not your thing, adding regular, intentional stretching into your routine will make a difference.
- Healthy Diet
No surprise here. We all know that what we eat matters. Not only does it affect how we look and feel but also how we age. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts and lean protein such as fish, chicken and lean red meat. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, age-fighting phytonutrients and antioxidants which battle free radicals that damage cells. Low fat dairy provides calcium to strengthen bones and is also a good protein source. Whole grains such as quinoa, wild rice, whole grain pasta and oatmeal provide fiber, vitamins B and E and antioxidants. Legumes have fiber, antioxidants and are a good source of complex carbs. Protein is important because it helps to build and repair tissue and our bodies use it to make enzymes and hormones. Protein also helps to keep us full and satisfied.
Although I’m a big believer in eating healthy, I’m also a believer in moderation. Sticking to a healthy eating plan is much easier if we allow room for treats. I would go nuts if I couldn’t eat chocolate or chips and salsa. I try to adhere to a 90/10 plan where 90% of what I eat is good, healthy food and 10% is just plain fun. Truly aging well involves having a happy, peaceful outlook on life and on food. I would not age well if I was obsessive or too stringent with my diet. I would be a foul, grumpy wench. No thanks!
The final key is acceptance of ourselves and our aging bodies. To age well is to feel good about who we are in the present, instead of trying to relive the past and look and feel like we did way back when. I’m not saying to throw in the towel. Quite the contrary! As we age, accepting some of our new limitations can help us avoid injury and avoid being constantly frustrated and unhappy. I’ve seen people severely injure themselves trying to do things better suited for people 10-20 years younger. Our egos don’t want to accept these changes, but our bodies will demand that we listen. So what if you can’t lift what you did in college? So what if you’re not a size 2 like in high school? It’s okay. Our bodies change. Our abilities change. Let’s strive to be as healthy and fit as we can within the limitations of our aging bodies.