I have no intention of getting “old”. How about you? Of course, I will get chronologically older, hopefully much older but my intention is to retain the maximum physical and psychological well-being possible so that I can continue to live a productive, creative and healthy life.

Ageing well requires a 3-pronged approach in my view. The first is the mental intention to stay as well as possible in both mind and body. This kind of mindset can then inform our choices about what we put into our bodies, what kind of physical and mental activities we engage in and what kind of well-being enhancing practices we might want to adopt, including therapies. Once the decision is made to remain as healthy as possible into old age, it can become a satisfying project for us. Once we allow ourselves to move beyond the limiting beliefs we might have about what we can expect in old age, we are free to make our own choices, always of course remaining safe in our pursuance of maximum well-being. Take for example Charles Eugster, a gentleman in his nineties who took up weight-lifting in his eighties, runs and rows, participates in competitions in those activities and holds a number of records in his age category too.

In 1981, a social psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer took a group of men in their 70s and 80s to a monastery for a week. The environment was set up as though it were 1959 and the men were asked to behave as if they were 20 years younger and actually living that time. A battery of physical and cognitive tests were carried out on them before and after and compared to those of a control group who also lived there for a week but were asked to simply reminisce about that time. Both groups showed improvement in a range of abilities such as flexibility, strength and intellectual challenge. Some reported improved eyesight and hearing. However, the men asked to pretend they really were back in 1959 showed the most improvement. These men seemed to have bodies that actually were younger. This experiment along with others led Langer to conclude that the mind really does have an effect on the body.

What we need to understand is that we don’t know all there is to know about how the body and mind work. Some of the information we have for example on genetics has come from relatively recent research and has changed thinking on the impact of heredity on our health as we age and the conditions we might expect to “inherit”. Whilst it is true that we all have a “constitution“, which means we all have some organs that are weaker than others and predispositions to certain health conditions, current research on genetics indicates that how genes operate is rather different from what was previously thought. It seems that our genes have chemical tags known as epigenetic switches which determine whether a particular gene is switched on or off. Moreover, it seems these “tags” are influenced by our lifestyle choices and how they determine cellular conditions. In a nutshell, healthy lifestyles turn healthy genes on and unhealthy ones off. The opposite is also true when we make poor lifestyle choices.

Secondly, we must inform ourselves. Taking steps to maximise our health and well-being is in fact relatively straight forward. Our bodies do change as we get older. Our hormones change for example. Some of these have a protective function and as they diminish, so do their protective roles in our bodies. This means we can “abuse” our bodies less as we get older if we want to be in good health. There are though simple ways to give our bodies what they need. Good nutrition and good quality food is of the essence because it is this that gives us the minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins and carbohydrates for optimal body functioning. We need to keep inflammation in the body to a minimum for it is this that causes organs to deteriorate. Proper eating goes a long way towards inhibiting deleterious inflammation developing. We need to exercise regularly to keep our bones healthy and in order to have adequate muscle mass. These two together reduce the likelihood of conditions such as osteoporosis. We need to keep our toxic intake from the environment, our lifestyle habits and non-nutritious food and drink to a minimum and we need to know how to help the body get rid of those we do take in.

Eating healthily is relatively easy. Much has been written on what makes a healthy diet and we can always inform ourselves more. If we follow one simple rule however, we will be on the right track. Eating a wide variety of food that is unprocessed, comes to us in its natural state so that we have to prepare it and/or cook it, and is cooked without excessive heat (I.e. burning through frying, roasting, toasting, barbecueing and grilling), will go a long way towards giving us the vital nutrients we need. Whether or not you eat meat is a personal choice, whilst vegetarianism and veganism must be properly studied in order to provide a wholesome nutrition intake.

There are many simple practices that come from naturopathy, energy medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and so on that can help us maintain health by helping the body rid itself of toxins. These include body brushing, Epsom salt baths, neurolymphatic massage, abyhanga self-massage and many others. Learning and applying some of these on a regular basis can augment what we are gaining from eating well and exercising. Alongside the kind of physical exercise we know about, we would also do well to investigate the benefits of such ancient Taoist health practices as qigong (chigung) and tai chi, and the practice of yoga.

The third approach is that of meaningful activity. Traditionally, society has functioned in a way that has encouraged us to think of being active through work until some time in our 60s, and then retiring. For many, retirement has been welcomed and even looked forward to as a time of being able to “take it easy” whilst for others it has heralded a loss of purpose and sense of usefulness. This can lead to decline in health as can the isolation and loneliness that can accompany ageing. A range of studies have equated persistent loneliness with elevated blood pressure, greater risk of heart disease and death from heart disease, increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline and indeed psychiatric conditions including psychosis.

At this time more than ever, finding something that gives a sense of purpose and contribution and maintaining social contact is vital. More time to ourselves can give us the space to really delve deeply into something that absorbs us. Perhaps we should let Charles Eugster be our example.

Author's Bio: 

Catherine Chadwick is a Clinical Hypnotherapist in London, UK. She also has a strong interest in health and ageing and is the author of "Healthy Ageing: Simple Ways to Stay Younger for Longer", available from www.amazon.co.uk