Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to eat kale! These ideas for aging well might surprise you.
We all know that as we get older, our bodies begin to break down. Even if we don’t suffer from the more severe age-related ailments like dementia or heart disease, we still inevitably feel the effects of aging.
But what you might not know is that there are things you can start doing now — literally, right now!– that can help prevent more severe ailments and protect your mind and body as you get older. These are not all the obvious things either, like eating healthy or eschewing cigarettes — in fact, some of these might surprise you!
1. Moisturize your skin regularly to help prevent dementia
Yes, really! Researchers at UC San Francisco have been studying the effects of age-related skin breakdown on the human body, and recently devised an experiment to see if moisturizing cream would have an effect on senior citizens. What they found is simply remarkable:
As aging skin begins to break down, the immune system releases small proteins known as cytokines to signal that there’s inflammation in damaged areas of the skin. These tiny inflammatory cytokines can leak into the body’s circulation system, and if there are enough of them, they trigger body-wide inflammation. That triggers so called “inflamm-aging” among older adults …
Among adults who used the skin cream, cytokine levels fell nearly to the level of people in their 30s. The study participants, ages 58 to 95, also lowered their skin’s acidity, improved hydration and repaired its permeability.
This one is a no-brainer, y’all. Embrace that moisturizing cream in your youth, and you’ll not only keep your skin young and healthy, you’ll also protect your entire body from age-and-inflammation-related illnesses.
2. Meditate daily to slow cognitive decline
Research on the effects of meditation has been growing over the last few decades, with most of those studies focusing on how it has immediate benefits on our health and happiness. It’s been associated with everything from lowered blood pressure to decreased cortisol levels. But researchers have been slowly expanding their studies to examine the long-term effects of meditation on the human brain — particularly on brain volume.
Brain volume inevitably declines in all of us after age 25, and that decline becomes more pronounced after age 50, resulting in declining cognitive and motor abilities. But a team of scientists from UCLA recently found that people who meditate daily have a noticeably less pronounced decrease in brain volume as they age than people who don’t meditate. They theorize that daily meditation could help us preserve our cognitive and motor abilities as we age — or at least slow the decline.
Christian meditation has traditionally included a focus on Scripture and simple prayers. Which leads us to the next suggestion …
3. Memorize Scripture to retain (and even improve!) cognitive and spiritual integrity
Scientists have long known that memory training can help slow cognitive decline, but they’ve recently found that periods of memory training can in fact help stave off cognitive decline by 7 to 14 years by promoting neural plasticity in aging brains.
Of course, you could choose anything to memorize, but memorizing Scripture can help protect both your mind and your soul. Not only will you be able to remember things well into your old age, but you’ll also have a treasury of Scripture ready to call upon through those years. After all, what good will it do us to keep our minds healthy if we’re not taking equally good care of our souls?
4. Practice curb-tapping to keep your balance
Of course, we can’t focus on our minds and souls without taking care of our bodies, too. Balance is one of the first physical abilities we gradually lose as we age. And because balance is something most of us tend to take for granted, this usually comes as a surprise — often in the form of a fall. Falling is no joke when you’re not a kid anymore, and can result in broken bones or joint damage.
Which is why it’s important to keep your balance now — literally. When you’re outside with your kids or walking around the neighborhood, stop and do a few sets of curb taps. Tapping the curb with one foot and then the other trains your body to safely shift your balance from one side to the other. As you get proficient at curb tapping, you can improve your balance even further by tapping something higher, like a footstool, or something unstable, like a soccer ball.
5. Carry your grocery bags yourself — and let your kids ride on your shoulders — to keep your bones strong
Our bones are living tissue, and as we age they naturally lose their mass and density. When this process goes unchecked it can leave you with osteoporosis and at the mercy of painful bone fractures in your old age.
But there’s a way to prevent bone loss and actually build bone density — and because life is a win-win, you’ll build muscle at the same time. All you have to do is lift heavy things. This is one of my favorite things about our bodies, because it makes so much sense yet never fails to surprise people. As a culture, we tend to think that lifting heavy things isn’t good for us as we age. In fact, the opposite is true — continuing to lift heavy things on a regular basis as we get older is more important than ever.
Weight training stimulates osteoblasts in your bones that build new bone cells — but those osteoblasts can’t be stimulated by just any kind of resistance. Running, walking, and swimming, while great ways to keep your heart healthy, won’t have much of an affect on your bones. Osteoblasts only respond when your muscles pull on your bones through the effort of overcoming gravity.
Basically, you have to lift heavy to grow strong bones. But don’t let images of bench-pressing scare you! Lifting weights is only one of many effective methods of weight training. Another one is carrying your 5-year-old on your shoulders at the zoo, or eschewing the help of grocery store employees and carrying those heavy bags yourself. Anytime you get the chance during your day to lift something heavy, take it! Not only will you find yourself getting stronger and stronger, but you’ll also be strengthening your bones for years to come.
So what are you waiting for? Put your kid on your shoulders and go tap the curb, then come home, put on some lotion, and find a new passage of Scripture to memorize and meditate on. Do it tomorrow too, and the next day, until it becomes a habit and you find yourself strong in body, mind, and soul for years to come!
Defining self-care in spiritual terms