“Becoming an Old Person in Training makes it easier to think critically about what age means in this society and the forces at work behind depictions of older people as useless and pathetic.” -Ashton Applewhite
When most people talk about aging, they portray this picture of decline. Hold onto this misguided belief the best years are behind them. Sadly the anti-aging message is pervasive in our society. And the increasing rates of social isolation among older adults speaks volumes about our views on aging.
But what if instead, we looked at aging as a time of growth? How drastically does that change this image?
There isn’t something specific about aging that causes a state of decline. Your beliefs are what cause change with age. Nothing more. By telling ourselves we've gotten "too old to..." we initiate the process of decline. If we'd just admit that yes, we are in fact getting older, embrace this fact, and view aging as an opportunity for further growth we’d all be much better off.
In my years as a physical therapist focused on empowering the aging process, I’ve compiled a list of skills that older adults who age well have in common. Practice these daily and you too can train wisely for your later years. In order to age well, you need to continue to live the life you want to live when you’re older, day in and day out. No excuses. Start with the list below if you want to take control of your aging today.
Practicing this skill alone will put you leaps and bounds ahead of most of the aging population. In the clinic, I’ve heard countless times (even from people as young as 40) that “I’m too old to be getting on and off the floor”. This belief is a detriment to your future health. Research has found that the inability to get on and off the floor without using your hands is linked to a higher risk of early death. You read that right.
So get yourself on the floor and start practicing right now. Start floor sitting for every opportunity possible. And when you start to do this in the presence of others, you’ll discover what an unconventional choice this is. Whenever I’m with a group of people and I opt for the floor instead of an open chair there are always comments. But remember, people tend to judge based on their own insecurities. Stick to your principles and be okay with being different. Being different is the key to aging well.
We hear that balance declines with age, but this has more to do with the behaviors we adopt as we age instead of aging itself. By definition, anything we don’t practice daily will be in a state of decline regardless of age. So when is the last time you went out of your way to challenge your balance?
Practicing balance daily can and should be a lot of fun! Start by exploring your balance comfort zone. Make note of the surfaces you tend to walk on, whether or not you’re comfortable standing on one foot, the possibilities are endless. Then once you find your limits challenge yourself to push past the boundaries of them every day.
Healthy shoulder joints have a wide range of motion. As humans in modern life, we use our shoulders much less often than we used to. The shoulder is a big mover and a complex joint surrounded by a lot of muscles. Movement of the shoulder joint is also key to our lymphatic system and blood circulation. An astounding number of older adults lose the ability to lift their arms up past shoulder height simply due to underuse.
So keep this skill by practicing daily. Just as mentioned above, start by noticing your normal habits. You might be surprised at how many times throughout your day you intentionally avoid lifting your arms up. Next, notice how quickly your shoulders get tired when you do this. Then start to incorporate more shoulder range in your daily activities. This could be as simple as hanging your clothes on a clothesline or slowly putting dishes away in an overhead cupboard.
This is the most unconventional suggestion on this list by far but is vital to the health, strength, and function of your upper body. Just as healthy shoulder joints should have a large range of motion, they should also be strong enough to allow you to hang from a tree and do a pull-up. In fact, your shoulder joint won’t have fully developed strength until you can perform these tasks. But due to our modern environment, most of us haven’t performed either of these activities for a very long time, so we are likely to injure ourselves if we try.
Start with crawling to practice loading your shoulder joints. This is also a great way to strengthen your core and prevent osteoporosis of the wrists. As you start to gain stability in your shoulder joints with crawling, start to explore hanging from your hands.
And last but not least, one of the most important ways you can train well for aging is to find a group of people you enjoy being with and laugh every day. Find others with similar interests and habits to keep yourself around like-minded individuals. Make a habit out of being spontaneous and enjoying yourself. Take walks with your family or groups of friends.
And find books, podcasts, blogs, any resource with positive aging voices to be part of your community as well. Social isolation is actually considered a risk factor for frailty in older adults and earlier risk of death. Combat isolation by continuing to expose yourself to new experiences and people.
Above are just a few suggestions to become an older adult in training, but the possibilities are endless. Continue to live your life as you want to live it as you age, day in and day out. No excuses. Where can you get started training well today?