Active Ageing – your health in your hands
What does it mean to age well, and what can people expect of their health as they get older? There are many perceptions of ageing, but is how you age in your own hands?
There can be a tendency to look upon ageing as an inevitable process of decline, and while physiologically we don’t tend to get fitter or stronger as we get older, the speed at which we lose fitness and wellbeing is most often determined by how willing we are to take control of our health – to take responsibility for our choices. This defines the ageing process and who/what it is we become. How much we lose strength, flexibility, balance and cognitive function are all determined by how committed and open we are to engaging in healthy living practices, good diet, exercise and positive, meaningful social interactions.
Do we become a frail and deteriorating shell of our former selves, or are we able to maintain a robust quality with healthy ageing?
If we look at what defines great health and active ageing, we can say that it is those activities that allow us to maintain a high quality of life, an ability to get out and about, socialise and perform everyday tasks of daily living.
Beautiful examples of such ageing can be found at The Joy of Ageing esoterically, and amongst the Universal Medicine Before and After stories, which highlight the impact our choices have on our vitality and wellness.
The statistics for ageing show that for many there is a loss of confidence in their ability to do the simple everyday things. This is especially so for those who suffer a fall, a common occurrence and great fear for many older adults.
Here are some stats on the ageing population and the incidence of falling.
30% of Australian’s over 65 have a fall each year
In the UK a fall resulting in a hip fracture costs an average of £15,000 for hospitalisation in the first year following the fall and a total of £1.1billion annually
The economic burden of falls in Canada is $6bn dollars annually
Hospital bed days from falls is predicted to double by 2051 in Australia
One in three people suffering a hip fracture dies within a year, with it being the most common cause of death in over 65s
For those who fall, and there are many, loss of independence and more disturbingly, death, often follow very quickly as the last point raises. But falls are not an inevitable part of ageing. Being proactive in our approach to our health is vital to arrest what will otherwise be an inevitable decline.
What should older adults do?
You use it or lose it. When we stop doing any activity, it inevitably becomes harder to do. So with our bodies if we expect we are going to get old and frail, then that is almost definitely what is going to happen.
So there is a large degree of responsibility we can take in our everyday lives. We either let life happen to us or we take control of the health and vitality we want to feel. If we shut down to how we feel (our bodily awareness) then it becomes difficult to spot if our health is declining. Being aware of how we feel in our bodies is something we can bring attention and awareness to in any moment.
It can be as simple as asking; do I have any tension in my body? If the answer is yes, can I breathe and move gently to lessen the impact of this? Can I get some support from a health practitioner to improve the way I feel in my body?
Practical exercises and functional strength – are you ageing well?
With regards to strength, balance and flexibility, here are some simple ways to consider your physical wellbeing:
Leg strength: Sitting with your bottom at the edge of a dining / table chair that allows your feet to touch the ground, with toes directly below the knees, can you stand up comfortably with a long spine without using your hands at all, only relying on the strength in your legs to bring you to standing?
Balance: Have a chair or wall nearby for support if you need it. Can you stand like you are on a tightrope with one foot in front of the other? Can you hold your balance without tipping to the side or wobbling excessively?
Arm strength and shoulder flexibility: Can you comfortably raise your arms overhead and straighten them up tall? Are you able to repeat this a number of times without pain or discomfort?
If you found any of these 3 tasks difficult it sounds like you may benefit from some strength and balancing exercises, either in the form of an exercise class or a strength program for the home.
It is recommended we should alternate strength (resistance) exercises with walking throughout the week, ideally looking to be active on most days in one way or another. A little every day goes a long way towards a strong, supple, fluid, energised body. Remember, exercise shouldn’t be painful or hard, and we should always stop when we are tired.
Ageing is an individual process, and being proactive and taking responsibility for our strength, balance and overall wellbeing is the biggest determinant of how well we are going to feel, and how likely we are to suffer a fall. Do we let our bodies become frail and weak, or set a benchmark for what healthy ageing can be and enjoy a real quality of later life?
Always consult your GP / Doctor before undertaking any new forms of physical activity.