This month makes our 26th year in business treating Delawareans, and 18 years of running a fitness center. I was talking to some of our fitness members about this milestone, and they posed a very interesting question. ‘What secrets have you learned about what makes someone age well?’ Great question!
We have over 30% of our members who have been with us over 15 years, and we even still have our original fitness member (we love you, Patt!). As such, I have seen a good number of people age and can share these secrets to aging well. Almost all the people I have seen who have defied the inevitable tide of aging seem to share the following characteristics:
1. They have developed little habits of discipline. Trust me, they are not working out for 2 hours a day. They are not exercising at 95% of their capacity. They ARE at the fitness center every week, however, and most are here every day. This has a compound effect over time. Eating a chocolate bar a day won’t kill you, but do it every day for 10 years, and it will add up to disaster! Remember the saying ‘an apple a day’? Little things, done daily, yield big results. What little thing can you start doing today that will yield results? It could be drinking a glass of water at breakfast. It could be no eating after 7 pm. It could be 3 push ups before bed! It doesn’t seem to matter what they do, it is more important that they do it regularly.
2. They have a positive outlook. Sure they get mad at the news, or the guy who cuts them off, I am not saying that they are Pollyanna. What I have seen is that they tend to look at the positive side of things, and they tend to not take things personally. They don’t feel that society is out to ‘get them’. If something bad happens (and it will to all of us!), they get back up and chalk it up to ‘this is the planet that we live on’
3. They give. They are generous with their time, talents, energy, advice, and even with their money. They look for ways to add value to anything that they touch. It can be as simple as picking up a piece of gum wrapper off the floor, or holding a door open. As it turns out, their good health is no accident in part because of this attitude.
4. They are connected socially. We have a party twice a year for our members, and they love it! It is a chance to bring in a covered dish, hear some good entertainment, and just chit chat. Social connections do not have to be deep, life long friendships, either. Do you say hello to the mailman, or the lady walking the dog in your neighborhood? Do you strike up a conversation with the check out person at the grocery store? All this counts as connecting, and not allowing yourself to be isolated. Even for introverts!
5. They take care of problems when they are small. In our center, fitness members are exercising right in front of our physical therapists, and we encourage them to ask us any question about any little ache or pain. We are constantly making little adjustments so that even our 90 year olds can exercise safely. Everyone likes solving little problems. Women are especially good at this, frankly. We men tend to try to act tough, and then wonder why the problem can only be solved with surgery! (it hurts even to write that!)
6. They have a purpose. We all probably know of a guy or gal who worked somewhere for 40 years, finally retiring, and suddenly dropped dead a month into retirement. Having a reason to get up out of bed in the morning is a powerful elixir. The Japanese call this ‘ikigai’, Hindus call this ‘dharma’–it is your reason for being, your mission. Have one! If you retire, use this as a perfect time to re-invent yourself! Wave your magic wand and try something you always wanted to do. The time is NOW to have a new purpose. What is yours?
7. They have some regular practice of stress reduction. It can be meditation, deep breathing, a walk in nature, singing or playing an instrument, or having a pet. Notice the word REGULAR. It doesn’t have to be long, nor does it need to be formal. Some people simply take 2 or 3 deep breaths, a few times a day.
8. They have a spiritual practice that includes gratitude. Notice I did not say religious, although that is often the case. They tend to be optimists, and see good in the little things. They believe that there is something out there bigger than them. They make it a point to be thankful for every little thing. When your mind is full of gratitude, there is much less room for anger. What are YOU grateful for?
9. They don’t eat or drink to excess. This was one of Ben Franklins ‘virtues’ that he tried to practice throughout his life. He had 13 virtues overall, but that is for another article! In general, eat until you are 80% full. Eat what you want. Eat mostly plants. Eat fresh. Drinking in access only wastes the precious little time you have here on Earth. You can spend time, but you cannot buy time!
So, if you want to really jump start a longer and healthier life, consider what I have seen that our fitness members have done over the last 26 years to swim against the tide of aging to get younger next year!