PMG Top Three: Three ways to age well

Jeremy Swindle, M.D., writes about three of the most important things you can do to maintain your health and well-being after 65.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”

Whether your preferred forms of fun are golfing, playing bridge, cultivating a garden or discussing literature with your book group, it’s fine to slow down a little as the years add up – the important thing is just to keep active – and interactive. In fact, keeping your body, mind and spirit spry may be the three most important things you can do to maintain your health and well-being as you navigate the retirement years.

Take your body out to play

All through your life, your body is actively remodeling itself according to the demands that you place on it. If the most demanding thing you do is sit in a chair, your body will soon become very good at sitting in a chair – and not much else.

It’s never too late to start rebuilding in the other direction. To optimize your energy, flexibility, mobility, strength, balance, functioning and overall health as you age, challenge your body every day. Start by talking with your doctor about what will be safe and beneficial for you. If you enjoy golfing or playing tennis, keep it up. If you haven’t been active in some time, try walking for just a few minutes a day, increasing your time, speed and distance as you begin to feel stronger and more energetic. If you have arthritis or other physical limitations, swimming and water aerobics are excellent alternatives that are easier on the joints. Adding some stretching and strengthening exercises to the mix will multiply the health benefits and help keep boredom at bay.

In addition to the benefits to your body, numerous studies have shown that physical activity helps reduce the risk of mental decline, and may be the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise your brain

Just as your body needs to be exercised and challenged, so does your brain. If you want to stay sharp as you age, watching television will not do the job. Some things that will: reading intellectually stimulating books; learning new languages and skills; studying new subjects that interest you, and trying new recipes and hobbies. If it turns out that retirement is not your thing, hone your professional skills through continuing education classes; utilize your knowledge and experience as a consultant or volunteer; consider starting a home-based business, or take a part-time job in a new field.

Conversation can exercise your brain as well, if you make the effort to spark thought-provoking discussions. Step away from your conversational comfort zone and welcome new ideas and perspectives. Instead of expressing the usual complaints about local or global issues, turn the conversational energy toward brainstorming positive solutions. To take that one step further, share the solutions you come up with by writing letters to the editor or to your legislative representatives.

Brainteasers, word puzzles and card games are a fun and easy way to start giving your brain a workout. As with physical exercise, make sure that you engage in a variety of activities and try new things to maintain your mental agility.

Go play with your friends

Enlisting friends and family members to join you for a walk, a card game or some other form of physical or intellectual exercise makes these activities more fun – and more healthful, too. Studies show that maintaining social connections is crucial to healthy aging. Older adults who spend more time with people they enjoy and care about tend to suffer less from depression, dementia and illness, and are generally much more content with their lives.

Stay in good spirits by making regular dates with friends and family members, as well as fostering new friendships and connections. Senior centers, churches and many other organizations offer opportunities to socialize with others. They also can direct you toward volunteer activities in your community. Volunteering is a great way to meet people while doing something that makes a difference – and that makes you feel good in the process.

Find more information in our Senior Health Learning Center

With age, some changes are inevitable. Sleeping and eating patterns change, we lose loved ones, and our own bodies no longer work as well as they used to. If you are dealing with physical changes, depression, or a chronic health condition, learn everything you can about it so you can manage your health and maintain the best possible quality of life. Providence’s Senior health Senior Health Learning Center provides links to dozens of articles focused on age-related changes, health conditions, medical tests and medications, as well as more information on healthy aging in general. Bookmark it as a resource that you can refer to as changes arise.

Meanwhile, go out and play! Exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction can have profoundly positive effects on your physical and mental well-being. In addition, they will strengthen your ability to cope with life’s changes so you can stay focused on the silver lining of your golden years.

Dr. Swindle is a family physician with a special interest in geriatrics. He practices at Providence Medical Group-Newberg.