AGEING WELL There are several steps that we can take to offset the inevitable physical and mental symptoms of ageing.
Life is a process of growth and decline. Like all other organisms, the human body experiences periods of growth and decay. We live in a culture that almost shuns aging. We attempt to delay its effects on our bodies, prefer not to talk about it and sometimes act like we will never be personally affected. Though the ravages of time will visit each of us, a shift in perspective and some lifestyle practices can help us to age well, even offsetting some of the symptoms of physical and mental decline.
New person every seven years?
You may have heard the story that every cell in your body is replaced every seven years or so. This is an enduring myth as cellular regeneration is always occurring and does so at different rates in different body tissue. Sperm cells live for three days for example, whilst red blood cells turnover in about four months. It’s true to say that, on this microscopic cellular level, we are consistently renewed.
Effects of ageing
There are more distinct physical changes on a macroscopic level. From the age of 30 your heart loses 1 percent of its pumping capacity every year, and the scale is also tipped in favour of bone loss over replacement from this decade onwards too. You also lose up to 30 percent of your muscle mass by the time you reach 80. In fact, every other system in your body begins a slow process of decline from time you hit your early 30s.
Going with the flow
Facing up to and even embracing your inevitable decline is one way of changing your relationship with ageing. Tibetan Buddhism shares a practice of embracing death in order to live more fully (see the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying). Meditating upon and accepting death as a natural part of the cosmic process of returning to roots can be a transformative experience, yet it is one Eastern practice that has not taken hold in the West.
Slowing the flow
You can also work with our own bodies to slow the aging process and ensure that you maintain your faculties well into advanced age. The importance of physical exercise is paramount. Strength training will help increase bone density and muscle mass.
Remaining curious about life and learning will keep your brain fresh. Neuroplasticity teaches us that the brains’ structure is not fixed from a young age but, rather, you can develop new neural pathways by stimulating your brain. One way to do this is to learn a new skill, take up a new language or play a musical instrument.
Maintaining close social relationships is another key factor in aging well. Research shows that those who nurture closer personal relationships suffer from less degenerative conditions. Love heals. This is one reason among many why social inclusion groups are vital in a healthy society and why they need to be supported.
Ultimately, how you age will come down to personal choice. You can choose to let time take its course and remain an onlooker as life ‘happens’ to you. You can also choose to take some of the small steps above that will give you more control over how you age. Perhaps you owe it to yourself?
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.