Want to Get Better With Age? You Can With These 6 Tips

I’d like to share a post by Karen Weeks who hosts ElderWellness. Thank you Karen for this great article!

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Being a senior does not have to put limits on your life. More than ever, older adults are taking control over their lives and living each day to the fullest. If you are looking for simple ways to maintain your health and happiness, then look no further than these useful tips.


Be Careful What You Eat 


Nutrition is always important, but it becomes even more essential as you get older. Making your meals at home is the best way to stay healthy, but some seniors may need extra help to make it happen. For seniors who want to eat healthy at home, smartphone apps make it easier than ever to put together shopping lists, have groceries delivered, or even provide recipes. To make meals even more accessible, you can also sign up for meal delivery services, such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, or look into services like Meals on Wheels.


Take Some Exercise Classes


Your activity level can also play a critical role in promoting healthy aging. The CDC has found that older adults who get regular physical exercise see quite a few benefits for their mental and physical health. Exercise helps reduce the risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases. Getting a regular workout can also increase your stamina and energy levels. Best of all, even basic workouts can help you stay active enough to stay healthy as a senior.


Put Together a Puzzle


If you love games and puzzles, then you may already be benefiting your brain. These activities provide some stress relief, but they can also help to improve your memory and enhance your overall cognition. In short, playing games can reduce your risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Not into puzzles? Then try taking up a new hobby to keep your mind sharp. Cooking, playing music, or even origami are all stress-relieving hobbies that can help calm your body and keep your mind strong too.


Make Some Travel Plans


These are the golden years of your life, so why not make the most of them by getting out and seeing the world? Travel for seniors can add years to your life by helping your heart and can help ease feelings of depression as well. So, take a road trip to some U.S. National Parks or book a cruise to the Caribbean. Just remember to follow some helpful travel tips, such as arranging transportation around mobility issues and making sure you drink plenty of water.


Give Back to Your Community


Feeling connected is also very important for preserving your health. Whether it’s social interaction with others or an understanding of the self, you need connection to preserve your mental health and avoid feelings of loneliness. You can maintain your own social connection by making dinner dates with friends and spending more time with loved ones. One other positive way you can stay connected is to volunteer your time to causes that you believe in. Whether it is teaching young people how to read or helping to build homes for those in need, giving back is a wonderful way to nurture your health and soul while meeting other positive people.


Learn to Live in the Moment


One of the benefits of being older is having an ability to be at peace with your world. You can find peace and control in your life by learning to live in the moment. Focus on the present and try to savor the details of each minute. Use meditation to separate yourself from your thoughts so that you can stay centered. Finally, take a few moments to breathe every once in a while. Relax your body and mind so that you can find peace and happiness wherever you are.


Older adults have so much to look forward to already, but with this list, you can make your golden years even better. So, take care of your health, stay connected to the world around you, and make the most of all of the adventures that are ahead.


 Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Critical Role of Play in Nature for Attention Restoration


Environmental psychologists, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, conducted a 9-year study for the U.S. Forest Service in which they took groups of people on discovery trips out into the wild for two weeks at a time. During the treks and afterward, subjects reported experiencing a sense of peace and an ability to think more clearly. They also reported that just being in nature was more restorative than any of the specific physically challenging activities, such as rock climbing, for which such programs are mainly known.

The Problem - Mental Fatigue

According to the Kaplans' research, too much directed attention leads to what they call "directed-attention fatigue", and it's marked by impulsive behavior, agitation, irritation, and inability to concentrate. They say it occurs mainly because neural inhibitory mechanisms become fatigued by blocking competing stimuli. In other words, your mind becomes like the Chinese acrobat's trick of spinning multiple plates on sticks. As long as she can keep all the plates spinning everything's fine. But the moment she stops or slows down they all come crashing down. Here's another way of describing it. Your mind is like a system of roads and traffic patterns. Ordinarily your brain has the ability to act as a traffic cop directing certain flows of thought but not all at once. Directed-attention fatigue is like a traffic jam - all lines of thought are demanding focus all at the same time. Or it's like too many plates spinning on sticks. Your brain gets tired and bad things begin to happen - cognitive ability goes down, you respond negatively and emotionally to the stress, you can't focus. 

The Solution - Attention Restoration

The amazing connection that the Kaplans discovered is that being out in the great outdoors is like pressing the reset button. "If you can find an environment where the attention is automatic, you allow directed attention to rest. And that means being in an environment that's strong on fascination. Nature can be the most effective source of such restorative relief."

So instead of having to actively concentrate on reading, organizing, comprehending what someone else is saying, being outside where you encounter something really big (like breathtaking scenery) or something really small and delicate (like a snowflake, pinecone, or flower) your mind is captured by it - the focus is complete and automatic. It's not fragmented by a hundred different competing thoughts. And it's that unity of thought that is therapeutic.

Double the Benefit

When you couple this kind of attention-restoration with human movement that's when you experience a complete mental and emotional overhaul. Part of the benefits of cardio-respiratory exercise include mental alertness, reduced tendency toward depression and anxiety, improved tolerance to stress, and improved relaxation and sleep.

We were made to respond to the natural world. There's more that could be said on the effect of being surrounded by living things (as opposed to non-living) in the natural world, moving in it, using tactile senses to feel it, and even the specific effect of the color green, but we'll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, do yourself a favor and spend a Saturday exploring in the woods, beaches, canyons, or mountains and give your mind the break it desperately needs.

Experiencing Awe and the Value of Feeling Small

During my graduate studies I read an article by Adelheid Fischer called The Utility of Awe. It was one of a series entitled The Science of Seeing, and it resonated with me because I could identify with what the author was saying. I've had experiences of awe in my life that affected me deeply and I'm sure you have too. Turns out these experiences are critical to our health. 

What is it?

There are two essential qualities to experiencing awe. First, it’s fleeting and unplanned. It’s  a magical moment - like discovering trees that look like ice sculptures the morning after an ice storm or golden hues on the landscape just before sunset or discovering and observing a wild animal in its natural habitat. It’s a moment that’s rare and you know if that if you blink or look away, even for a moment, you’ll miss it.

Second, its scale is profound. This could be the witness of something absolutely enormous and powerful like the experience you might have standing in front of Victoria Falls in flood stage - where you feel the deafening roar as much as hear it. Or it could be something extremely finite, fragile and delicate like a snowflake or the fingers of a newborn baby. According to Dacher Keltner, psychologist at the University of California, Berkley, your mind attempts to measure something “which might transcend measurement, planning what can only be unexpected, capturing what is beyond description.”

“Awe,” he explains, “is an encounter with something far larger than the customary confines of the self or one’s ordinary frame of reference. It requires vast objects—vistas, encounters with famous people, charismatic leaders, 1,000-foot-tall skyscrapers, cathedrals, supernatural events—that don’t fit well in the fluorescent lighted 9’ x 12’ space of a lab room.”

Or, I might add, in an office or a gym.

This is essential reason why we train and practice adaptable human movement - to enable us to get out and experience more of that in our lives.

Why is it helpful?

Well, for one, it helps people get over the sickness of self-obsession. By that I mean narcissism, the preoccupation with self that makes people so annoying to be around. Well awe fosters the attractive and enjoyable quality of humility - the exact opposite of narcissism. Study subjects say they experience feelings of diminishment saying that they feel small or insignificant. And they describe it as a feeling of relief - the opportunity to get their minds off of themselves and their problems and instead focusing on something grand and outside of themselves.

After experiencing something they would describe as an awesome event, test subjects say they felt less self-absorbed. But they also described an openness toward others, more social and outwardly focused. More generous, patient, grateful and more satisfied with life - Many said it led them to choosing more experiences over buying stuff.

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How we respond to it

As far as we scientists can tell, animals don’t experience awe. It’s been documented that wolves howl at northern lights but it appears to be more of an instinctual reaction and not one driven by an experience of awe. Humans were made to respond to experiences of awe. Even if we won’t readily admit it we know that our hearts crave experiences like this. And without them we feel emotionally empty and dried up. So we know it affects our psyche.

Turns out it also affects our physiology. Joy contentment, pride, and awe are all consistently associated with lower levels of interluken-6, a molecule in our bodies that contributes to inflammation. But out of all the positive emotions awe was the only one that significantly predicted lower levels using a strict statistical test. (www.scientificamerican.com)

How Can We Pursue it?

So what can we do to arrange our lives so that we can experience more awe? First, we need to be intentional. Sure, these encounters are serendipitous and usually happen in unplanned ways. But they’re also not automatic. We’re all busy and unless we’re deliberate about scheduling times to get outside and go to wide, open vistas, it won’t happen. And it can happen as a result of the small choices we make too. Choose to walk or ride your bike instead of driving your car. Choose to take the longer route across campus - the one that that takes you through a certain grove of trees. When the weather is nice, take an evening walk through the neighborhood or get out and paddle down the river.

Second, put it on your calendar and in your planner. Block out time to go to a place where or the time of day when there's a better chance of encountering something awesome. It could be a daily habit, a weekly activity like a Saturday morning bike ride, or a special trip or vacation destination where you go some place really special and out of your normal routine.

Third, get outside. Most experiences of awe happen because you’re  outside - running, climbing, paddling, riding. True, you can experience awe looking out the window. But most of the time, it just isn’t the same as being out in it. So get moving outside!

Lastly, take a journal with you when you go out adventuring. You never know when you might want to sketch what you see or write about it while it’s fresh on your mind. 


The Sitting Rising Test and what it could mean for you

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The Sitting Rising Test (SRT) was invented by Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, a specialist in exercise and sports medicine in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He said the idea for the test came to him while observing many of his elderly patients, many of whom could pass basic aerobic fitness tests on a treadmill or stationary bike but found themselves unable to bend down and pick up something off the floor or tie their own shoes. He says that though cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly related to survival, there is limited data regarding musculoskeletal fitness factors. His aim was to evaluate the association between the ability to sit and rise from the floor and mortality. The test measures other important health and fitness factors like strength, flexibility, and balance that are also key indicators of longevity.

To perform the test you should take your shoes off and have a friend or a spouse stand by when you attempt it. Also, if you have bad hips or knees, don’t attempt it alone without the help of a professional.

Here’s how it goes... stand and cross one leg in front of the other then sit down on the floor without using your hands, knees, or any other body part for support. Once your seated in ‘criss-cross-applesauce’ position (as they say in elementary school), stand back up again the same way you came down without the any other body part for support. Results are based on a scale of 1 to 10. A perfect score would be 5 on the way down and 5 on the way up. You lose one point each for any of these additional bases of support:

  • Hand
  • Knee
  • Forearm
  • One hand on knee or thigh
  • Side of the leg

Also you get a half a point if you lose balance at any point along the way. For every point you get, there’s a 21% decrease in mortality from all causes. Score three or less and your risk of dying is five times greater over the next five years. So it’s a general indicator. The test reveals immediately, and sometimes shockingly, the reality about your overall condition and level of mobility. 

The point is that the ability to get up off the floor without using your hands is normal for every active human being. Or it should be. Those of us with physical challenges have a legitimate reason but not so the rest of us.

American sustainable fitness coach, Steve Maxwell, named one of the top 100 trainers in the USA by Men’s Journal, is one of many who claims that sitting is the new smoking. That may sound like an overstatement but it speaks to the damaging effects that our excessive sitting and sedentary lifestyles will have on us. The list is long including bad posture, higher risk of diabetes, etc. But one of those damaging effects is the loss of ability to get up from or down on the floor with ease.

Dr. Michael Lim, director of the Division of Cardiology at Saint Louis University Hospital said this about the SRT and active lifestyles, "The more active we are the better we can accommodate stressors the more likely we are to handle something bad that happens down the road."

I couldn't agree more. That’s why we focus on building and practicing proper corrective human movement patterns as the foundation for all our fitness training. If you can’t perform the SRT with a score of at least 8 you really need to take steps now to reclaim your ability to move. Contact us, carve out some time in your schedule, and let us help you gain mobility! 

See these additional links:

BBC - How To Stay Young

Discover Magazine

USA Today

European Journal of Preventative Cardiology

Breath of Life - why breathing is critical to moving

I want to talk about why breathing properly during exercise is so important.

What is proper breathing anyway? Well proper breathing consists of three parts really:
1. The inhale
2. What you do with the breath once you have it
3. And then the exhale

The Inhale - Regulates Breathing

First let’s focus on the inhale. It's important to train yourself to breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Start by simply becoming aware of how you breathe. Take a minute, find a comfortable seat, place your right hand on your collar bones and your left hand on your belly. When you breathe in take note of which hand moves - is it your right or your left? If you’re breathing properly, the hand that's on your belly will be moving in and out while the hand on your collar bones will hardly move at all. This is often called ‘stomach breathing’ or ‘belly breathing’ . What’s happening is that you are using your diaphragm the way it was designed to draw air down into your lower lungs - the region of your belly. This causes the cylinder around your belly, including your sides, even your lower back, to expand with the inhale.

Note: Interesting bit of trivia about your nose... Your nose performs lots of functions for you including warming, humidifying, and filtering the air that goes into your lungs (the hairlike cilia in your nasal passages filter out nearly 20 billion particles a day!). These are all the other reasons you should breathe through your nose.

During exercise the most important thing breathing through your nose does for you is that it regulates your cycle of breathing and allows your body to take in more oxygen. Oxygen plays a vital role in both kinds of exercise - slow, endurance types of exercise that can be sustained for an extended period of time (aerobic) and quick, explosive movements that require tremendous amounts of energy (anaerobic). Both types use oxygen differently. To put it simply, oxygen intake during aerobic exercise generally means you last longer. Increased oxygen intake during anaerobic exercise generally means your body and muscles recover faster.

The In-Between - Breathe As Support

Second, proper breathing technique provides support for your entire core especially your spine. You should use the muscles in your diaphragm and your pelvic floor to create pressure with the air you have just breathed in. How do you do that? First, brace your diaphragm by pushing out slightly, as if you were bracing your abs to take a punch. The second part may seem a little strange...  but at the same time push down slightly using the same muscles you use when you have a bowel movement. It goes without saying that you also want to keep your sphincter muscles tight. Keeping this kind of pressure inside the “pelvic bowl” gives you a really solid foundation from which to lift. This is super important during deadlifts and squats but once you learn the technique you can apply it in every lift.

Note: Warning!... if you have heart trouble or high blood pressure do not use this technique!

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The Exhale - The Relief Valve

Do not hold your breath all the way through a deadlift or squat (or any exercise for that matter) or you may likely pass out. instead, keep the tension until you hit the halfway point then let it out under pressure using your lips or your teeth. You’ll hear lots of sounds when people do this. Most often it’s a ‘shhhhh’ or ‘sssss’ sound or just a tight lip blow as if you’re trying to blow up a balloon. Think of your lips and teeth as a relief valve on a pressure cooker, giving the extra pressure a way to escape.

One last thing on the topic of pressurizing your ‘pelvic bowl’. Everybody’s seen balloon animals, right? You know how those balloons are typically long and skinny? During pressing movements (push-ups, squats, etc.) imagine that your arm or leg is one of those balloons and imagine that you are pushing your air into that limb as if to inflate it. If you do this you’ll find your joints and base of support are more stable which also translates into more power.

Don't 'Panic Breathe'

The third point on proper breathing focuses on all three parts functioning together to regulate your cadence and rhythm and keep you out of ‘panic breathing’. Panic breathing is when your breathing is more like panting - short gulps or gasps or air through the mouth. This shallow breathing only fills the upper lobes of the lungs. The problem is that the upper lobes are used only in dire emergencies for flight or flight responses. This makes you over-adrenalized and puts your body in stress mode. Instead, you should breathe deeply in through your nose, hold that breath in for a couple of counts (always maintaining a slight pressure - martial artists call this breathing behind the shield), and then breathe out slowly through the mouth with pressure to provide that important pelvic support when necessary (as in the case of deadlifting).

Breath As Life

Finally, with each breath out think about letting go of unnecessary tension and with each breath in think about life coming into your body - because it really is life. I find it interesting that from the ancient Hebrew perspective, the text in Genesis 2:7 says God “formed the man (Adam) from out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature.” So from that perspective, there are two layers of meaning in nasal breathing - a physical and a spiritual. And I like that because it makes me think more deeply about it and appreciate the fact that the breath I breathe in is truly a gift of life.