Learning How to Actively Age
Making the Most of Our Golden Years
My Boaz and I grunted, One-two-THREE!” as we team lifted a rolled stretch of sod and dumped it into our garden wagon. It was a lot of work, but after two-and-a-half hours, we had a bare strip of dirt behind our pool cage to plant podocarpus bushes and false bird-of-paradise plants. Many of our neighbors hire landscapers, but not us. We’ve never shied away from hard work, but we’ve also realized that we must adjust how we work hard—and how much. I just had a cardiac event, probably a coronary artery spasm, just a few days before Christmas, and I manage fibromyalgia with mixed collagen vascular disease. My husband has a hereditary heart condition with back and knee arthritis. A couple of times he felt not-so-great twinges. His smartwatch pinged him that his exertion was too hard. He slowed down and changed his posture. I paid watched for additional pressure in my heart and any other warning signs. We’ve determined that the best thing for us to do is work smart, eat healthy, and exercise regularly. It’s really paid off!
We live in Florida, where many older adults 50+ actively age into their 80s and 90s, some even into their 100s. We moved from the frozen winter tundra of Michigan, where a lot of people hibernate with their comfort foods and hot chocolate until the spring thaw in April-May. There were also fewer active agers in Ohio, where I worked in gyms. Most of them had gym memberships working out with appropriate exercise plans and classes for their ages and health statuses. Some loved the winter wonderland playground, but most older adults hibernated indoors, packing on more pounds and feeling isolated. When Spring thaw hit, those who hibernated found new limits and diseases that further compounded aging. That’s not what we envisioned for ourselves.
The Secrets of Active Agers
If you go on walks with us, you will see our neighbors riding bikes, walking, running, and playing Frisbee with their dogs. At the Villages town squares, you will see seniors walking, dancing, and coming out of the gym—fit. Of course, you will also see seniors in open-air restaurants eating and drinking alcohol, smoking cigars, etc. People at our church play pickleball, swim, golf, and much more. Some church group members have had heart surgeries, joint replacements, and other age-related treatments. Many are cancer survivors. They don’t look and “act” their ages, at least not what most people think of when considering ages 65 and beyond. What are their secrets?
Before you begin any new exercise and healthy eating plan, get your medical providers’ approval. Not everyone can do the same as some active agers. I know that I can’t, but I’ve carefully chosen what I can within the limits of my health and doctors’ recommendations. Here are some of my discoveries through the years as a fitness pro working with active agers, as well as my observations living actively with them:
- Change your view of aging. We often have notions of what 55, 65, and 75 look like, but those ideas may need to be revised today. Watch other adults to see who lives a healthy, active, faith-filled lifestyle, and then consider their ages with their lifestyles. Decide if what they are doing is possible for you within the context of your health conditions.
- Eat healthy, smaller portions of nutrient-dense foods. We can slow the biological damage that makes us appear and feel older. Not only that, but we can head off diseases common in older adults while maintaining a healthy weight. It doesn’t always mean you will be thin, but it does mean that you can prevent the type of weight gain that can damage your health.
- Find ways to work and exercise, protecting your joints and health. Most older adults have at least some arthritis in joints like knees. Even though there may be joint damage from overuse, injury, and certain illnesses, we can maintain an active lifestyle. Try carefully building up strength in the muscles surrounding damaged joints to protect them and keep moving.
- Adjust your goals to fit your life now rather than when you were in your 30’s, or 40’s. Menopause causes sudden, drastic changes in women’s bodies, but men go through similar but less dramatic differences between 45 and 65. Those changes cause us to become stiffer in the morning, find aches and pains we didn’t have before, reduce mental clarity, and slow us down to some degree. Injuries come easier and take longer to heal. Adjusting your exercise and activity can prevent injuries and increase your stamina and strength. Also, by adopting a healthy eating plan, you can manage health issues, improve mental clarity, and improve energy levels. When you consider your Christian faith, it’s less scary to age because we know God is with us, we need not fear tomorrow. (Matthew 6:34)
- Don’t worry about keeping up with other people, rather challenge yourself. Let others inspire you to continue toward a healthy lifestyle. However, becoming wrapped up in a silent competition can damage relationships and do you more harm than good. Work on improving your own life. Who knows? You may become an inspiration to someone else!
- Keep company with active agers who inspire you. Are there other Christians around you who are active agers? Get to know them and their secrets to staying active. What are they doing that you can do too? Reduce your time with friends who sabotage your goals. Find better ways to connect with them and set reasonable boundaries to protect your health and well-being.
- Consider joint protection like knee braces or more cushioned, supportive shoes. If you protect your foundation—your feet—your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back will take less shock. That kinesthetic chain is essential for actively aging. Aids like ankle, knee, elbow, and wrist braces can protect damaged joints and help you maintain an active lifestyle for a more extended period. I wear joint protective gloves for weight training and working outdoors.
- Wear appropriate exercise clothing for your workouts. Our bodies aren’t the same as they used to be! Some parts sag more, other factors are thicker than we want, and modesty is essential. Look for exercise clothing that supports you, adds compression, and looks good on you now. You will feel better when you exercise with other people.
- Schedule your exercise for times when you feel most energetic. You might notice that you are either an early riser or sleeping longer now. When do you feel most productive? For example, my Boaz likes to exercise in the morning, but I like late morning or early afternoon. To compromise, we do our strength around 11 am, and then our cardio in the evening around 6:30 pm after our dinner settles.
- Get adequate sleep, about 7-9 hours. According to researchers, older adults need rest, yet many find themselves up in the middle of the night for 1-2 hours. Pain-somnia is a real issue! Exercise, healthy eating patterns, trusting God with issues that stress you, and managing illnesses can help give you better quality sleep. If you are up in the middle of the night, taking a short afternoon nap before 5 pm can refresh you to continue doing things into the evening.
- Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and smoking/vaping which age you faster by damaging your body. I read a recent study, which talks about the detriments of consuming alcohol. Many people experiencing pain use CBD or other cannabis-based products, but CBD products are unregulated. All these substances can damage cells in your body, affecting your DNA translation-transcription process. As damage happens, it is woven into your DNA for the future. These can affect your appearance and your health. As you adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can experience less pain and better overall performance, as well as have a better outlook on life.
- Get regular check-ups. Catch changes to your health early to prevent diseases or disease progression, and treat anything discovered.
- Avoid fad diets and pop anti-aging gimmicks. These are superficial, quick fixes that aren’t sustainable. They also drain your finances. A healthy lifestyle is worth the effort. Persistence and patience are key to active aging.
- Stay connected with the Lord and other Christians who live actively. Beware of the devil’s schemes to pull you off track with God. Meditate on God’s Word, pray daily, and practicing the classic spiritual disciplines (Living the Disciplined Life Group) will help you have peace and joy in your life.
- Lay your worries at Jesus’ feet and follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to solve problems. Retirement isn’t carefree, as my Boaz and I have discovered. Instead, it brings on a host of new concerns. Over and over, we have experienced God’s amazing provision, intervention, and comfort. God loves you and says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11;29-30 NIV.
- Don’t expect your children and grandchildren to keep you young. Let’s face it, and many families are scattered everywhere due to jobs, school, marriage, and more. We decided to live full-time in Florida when our kids and their families scattered across the U.S. It wasn’t worth the headaches of maintaining two homes when we would still have to travel a long way to see any of them. Technology brings families to you in ways that were never possible before. Set times to visit with them or them with you, but learn to build healthy relationships with other Christians to reduce the loneliness. Appreciate your kids and grandkids as they are wherever they are.
- Clear out clutter in your life, and simplify your space and calendar. If you missed my free Clearing the Clutter workshop, please contact me to schedule one. It’s far more than reorganizing your home. It’s about making room for changes you choose to make so you can build healthy habits that you can maintain. Nothing derails people’s goals that overwhelm and frustration.
- Find or create hobbies that help you feel productive. Hobbies are a lovely way to put creativity to use when you retire. It can fill that void of feeling productive. There is tremendous satisfaction when you create something that gives you a sense of pride.
- Volunteer in ministries and other groups for which you have a passion. Active agers certainly don’t collect dust! But one way you can feel valuable and serve God is through volunteering at your church, a ministry, or an organization for which you are passionate. When you pour into the lives of others, you glorify God and feel good about your life.
- Walk every day, taking in God’s unique creation. Walking is straightforward to do in places with walkable spaces and decent weather. If you live in cold regions, driving when it’s too cold out to appreciate God’s incredible work in creation inspires a sense of wonder. Find malls and indoor walking tracks for exercise, though. There is something about savoring beautiful scenery that warms our souls.
I’d love to hear how you are actively aging, or how you plan to begin your active aging goals. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. May God bless you!