Seven Fun Ways to Promote Healthy Aging
We’ve all heard that to stay healthy, we need to exercise more, eat more healthfully, quit smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation. For many of us, staying healthy requires sacrifice and what may feel like a lot of hard work. We grow weary of hearing people telling us we shouldn’t have that slice of pizza or banana cream pie and that we should start using that gym membership, which we purchased so many months ago.
The good news is that there are several things that are actually enjoyable that can improve your health. Here’s just a few:
Get up off the couch, your office chair, or whatever is keeping you indoors and get out in nature. Not only will the walk (or the gardening) do you good, according to the Harvard Health Letter, you’ll also enjoy these benefits:
- You’ll get more Vitamin D. Sunlight is a natural source of Vitamin D, which can help with numerous ailments including depression, cancer, osteoporosis and heart attacks. Don’t overdo it, but a little sunlight can work wonders.
- Your mood will improve. Light tends to elevate most people’s mood and being outdoors may even increase your self-esteem. According to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology Journal, both men and women had increased self-esteem after “green” exercise.
- You may heal more quickly. One study showed the people recovering from spinal surgery took less pain medication when exposed to natural light.
Take a nap
Getting enough sleep overall is important to overall health. Studies have shown it helps us do everything from lower stress to maintain a healthy weight to improve our memory. But sometimes we simply can’t fit in those necessary eight hours in a single session. The answer? Take a nap! It provides all the benefits of “regular” sleep and can provide the perfect pick-me-up. A study by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration showed that cockpit naps of up to 40 minutes for pilots who are on flights longer than seven hours were effective in helping them stay alert. A study by Sara Mednick, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, showed that a nap was more effective in performing motor, perceptual and verbal tasks than those who took a caffeine pill or a placebo. The best time to tack a nap? According to Dr. Mednick, the perfect nap should be taken between 1:00 and 3:00pm and last for 90 minutes.
We are, by nature, social beings. According to Matthew Lieberman, author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, “being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion.” Spending time with family and friends is enjoyable and allows us to connect with our fellow human beings. Additionally, it’s good for our health. A study from the Rush University Memory and Aging Project concluded that a higher level of social engagement in old age is associated with better cognitive function. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who engaged in a lot of social activity in their 50s and 60s had the slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more socially inactive. And according to a new study conducted at Brigham Young University, social isolation has been shown to be as much of a health risk as obesity.
You’ve undoubtedly heard that meditation can reduce stress, which helps the entire body function better. But for many, it may seem like there’s just not enough time to just sit and do nothing. For all you Type A’s out there, there’s good news from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. A recent study there showed that just 25 minutes of mindful meditation a day for three consecutive days, alleviates psychological stress. One of the easiest ways to meditate is to find a quiet place to be alone, sit and concentrate on your breath.
Learn a new skill
Challenging your mind is one of the best ways to help strengthen your brain, which may help protect it against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. While any mental exercise – crossword puzzles and other “brain games” – is good for the brain, a recent study done at the University of Texas at Dallas showed that learning a new skill has the most impact on brain health – and the more challenging the new skill, the greater the result. So, enroll in a computer class, take up quilting, or learn a new language. You’ll not only be gaining valuable life experience, you’ll be helping your brain now and in the future.
The simple act of gratitude can promote all sorts of healing. According to Dr. Lawrence Rosen, an integrative pediatrician, there are at least five benefits of gratitude that have scientific studies to back them up. According to Rosen, gratitude:
- Reduces depression.
- Engenders a feeling of peace.
- Aids in restful sleep.
- Improves heath health.
- Strengthens memory.
It may turn that laughter really is the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and improves your mood. According to a study done at the University of Maryland, it’s also good for the heart. Michael Miller, a cardiologist who led the study, said, “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.” Laughing is also good for the brain. A study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School showed that adding humor during classroom instruction led to higher test scores. And, finally, laughing may extend your life. In a study of 53,000 seniors done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researchers discovered that study participants who had a sense of humor had a 20 percent lower mortality rate compared to those who had difficulty in finding the humor in life.