In many cultures, aging is seen as a good thing. But in Western culture, not so much. Are we missing something?
“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.” ~ Anonymous
If you look at nearly any health magazine on the newsstand, there are several topics they have in common.
Usually there’s at least one weight loss headline (usually with something about abs, a numbered list of tips and a magic food that will BOOST METABOLISM NOW!). Then, there’s another one about a particular food that is either now a miracle cure or deadly (and it might make one list this month and another list the next). Then, there’s something about aging.
In many cultures, aging is seen as a good thing. In America, or Western culture in general … not so much.
When we look at the cultures that are both long-lived and have a high quality of life into later years, we see a recurring theme: resiliency. Cultures, as well as individuals, who enjoy longevity are mentally, physically and spiritually resilient. From our spines to our neural pathways, keeping active and flexible will keep many of the symptoms we call “aging” at bay.
Today, let’s start with looking at ways to increase our physical resilience.
A hallmark of a resilient body is that, among other health cues, it is flexible. In the U.S., we often look at exercise benefits strictly in terms of weight loss, but our ability to increase or at least maintain our flexibility is a big key to having pain free movement as we age. Many of us have jobs that keep us sedentary, and choose seated relaxation activities as well. Engaging in activities that promote flexibility, such as yoga, can help to prevent spinal degeneration, as well as arterial stiffness.
2. Real food
You know, food our grandparents would recognize as food. In 2000, the World Health Organization identified Okinawans as one of the consistently longest-lived cultures. One of the habits to which this culture-wide health and longevity was attributed was their diet. Okinawans and other long-lived cultures tend to embrace a diet of fish, vegetables, whole grains, tea, legumes, nuts and seeds—and eating lightly. On a sad note, the Okinawan life expectancy has begun to shift as they have started eating a more typically Western diet.
3. A positive attitude
While we might consider this to be more a component of mental or emotional resilience, our attitudes have a direct impact on our physical health as well. We cannot wish illness away or laugh it off, but having a positive attitude toward life in general is a boost to the immune system and lowers our levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
In a recent study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Institute for Aging Research, researchers found that the group of Ashkenazi Jews between the ages of 95 and 107 all had one personality trait in common: a positive outlook on life. They had a sense of humor, laughed easily, were laid back or easygoing. Believing the best about the world around you, even in the face of difficulties, has effects that go beyond your mood to your immune system and your overall wellness.
Tomorrow: How do we keep our mental flexibility?
Photo credit: Flickr / ajvin