Beyond the platitudes: how can we age well?
Beyond the platitudes: how can we age well?
There are so many articles out there about “healthy aging”, but of them are bizarrely vague. Like ads for menstrual products or incontinence, they seem to be convinced that we’d all run away screaming if they actually mentioned what aging is actually like, so we’re left with commercials of silver-haired couples taking romantic strolls on the beach, senior women lifting two-pound weights in yoga pants, and similarly-aged men mowing the lawn and looking purposefully at the horizon. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with beach dates or light workouts, but it doesn’t really address the issue of aging head-on. It’s like a dream of healthy seniorhood, as imagined by people who still don’t believe they’ll ever actually be old.
(Yes, I said old. It’s not a dirty word!)
But even if it’s usually polished up beyond recognition, healthy aging is a major concern. Across the world, the percentage of the population over the age of sixty is increasing, and by 2050 this percentage is expected to surpass 30% in Canada and most of Europe. We aren’t, as the saying goes, getting any younger. So what does it mean to age well? And what do we need to do in order to get there?
Defining healthy aging
Health is a broad term that means different things for different people. But in general, it’s looking at functional ability, regardless of the particular quirks that your own body or mind develops as you age. The World Health Organization defines functional ability in the following terms:
The ability to meet your basic needs
The ability to learn, grow and make decisions
The ability to be mobile
The ability to build and maintain relationships
The ability to contribute to society.
We’ll take a look at each of these in a little more detail.
Meeting your needs
Okay, that’s a HUGE category. It means healthy finances, a safe place to live, warm clothes, clean water, nutritious food. It means access to whatever medications or treatments (including massage) that keep you functioning. If you’re having problems with some aspect of meeting your basic, needs, it means you have supports in place to help with that, whether these are physical supports like a grab bar in the bathroom, mental supports like reminders to take care of important tasks, or social supports like a neighbor who checks in on you regularly.
For those of us who are wondering how to age well, it means making plans for how these needs will be met in the future. Talking with your primary care physician, your financial planner, your family, and even your friends can help you build a solid plan for ensuring your needs continue to be met over the coming years.
Learning, growing, and and making decisions
Learning and growth are a huge part of a happy and healthy life. It can be comfortable to fall into routines, but that shouldn’t stop you from branching out as well. Reading a book, taking a dance class, or exploring a new museum or park are all simple examples. More challenging can be traveling, taking up an entirely new hobby, or learning another language.
But the greatest fear that many people have about getting older isn’t about failing to learn new things. It’s not even developing poor health. It’s the potential for lost autonomy The longer you’ve been empowered to make your own decisions, the more you cherish it. The idea of losing that is horrifying. This is especially true when we think about the two primary sets of people who might take on our decision-making power down the road: our own children, for whom we made decisions for years, and strangers.
As we get older, most of us end up leaning more heavily on others than we would have wished. What’s the solution here? Making as many decisions as possible now. Again, this involves some (possibly uncomfortable) conversations, especially with family members who’d rather pretend aging simply doesn’t happen. An advance directive is also a key part of this process. Five Wishes is one of the easiest and most common versions of this form, and makes your choices known in five key areas:
Who you want to make decisions for you when you can’t
What kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want
How comfortable you want to be
How you want people to treat you
What you want your loved ones to know.
Even if not choosing this particular template, developing an advance directive is a good practice for people of all ages to consider, if they want to preserve their decision-making powers in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury.
Mobility comes in two flavors. The first is the ability to get around by the power of your own body. The very best thing you can do to maintain your mobility is to use your mobility. That means taking advantage of opportunities to walk, exercise, and stretch. Strength training can help, as well as getting regular massage. (Hello!) For folks whose mobility is limited in one or more ways, this can require taking advantage of what your body can do, even while there are things it can’t. Maybe you take t’ai chi instead of Zumba fitness, or you walk laps in the pool instead of around the track. Your physician or physical therapist can help you figure out what maintaining your personal mobility looks like.
The second form of mobility is about how you get around in the world. People in their 80s often give up driving for a number of reasons, most commonly due to vision problems. Having access to alternative sources of transportation can be huge in assuring quality of life as we age. Living within walking distance of important resources such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and social spaces can as well.
Building and maintaining relationships
Some people naturally seem to collect new friends wherever they go. The introverts among us struggle a little more. Either way, building and maintaining relationships with others is a key part of health at every stage of life. Volunteering is a fantastic way to get to know people in a structured environment. Groups based around walking, reading, gardening, games, or other hobbies are another great option. Whatever you choose, you’ll be spending time with people who enjoy and appreciate the same things you do.
And what about family? If you’re lucky, they also fall into this category. If you’re not so lucky, these relationships can be fraught with challenges. It’s worth considering individual or family therapy if there are family relationship you’d like to strengthen. And if they’re not the sort of relationships that ought to be maintained, a good therapist can help you through that process as well.
Contributing to society
Know that you have something to offer the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve spent most of your life as a NASA scientist or a full-time parent, whether you were a pillar of the community or the town’s biggest screw-up. If you believe that the world could be better with a little help, you are never too old to offer it. Volunteer. Share your experiences. Model your values. Make the world more just, friendly, beautiful, or honest. A huge part of health is hope. So act on it, however you can.
Aging isn’t always easy.
It would be nice if our minds and bodies kept functioning as though we were perpetually 25, but that’s not the reality we live in. What is our reality is that we have choices available to us that can help us lead meaningful and fulfilling lives at every age, even as we face new challenges. So today? Think a little bit about the future. Plan to take that walk, call your sister, write that op-ed, or schedule that massage <<LINK>>. Aging isn’t always easy, but it’s a privilege all the same. So here’s to making the most of the opportunity.
The Physiological Effects of Monthly Massages
Sure, it feels great to pop in and see a massage therapist every now and then. It’s a great way to pamper yourself and relieve stress during a particularly crazy time. Self-compassion and the idea of splurging on yourself for once, otherwise known as “Treat Yo-Self,” means that it’s actually really great for you to spend a little time on self-care.
However, have you considered regular, monthly massage appointments? Besides having one day set aside each month, to treat yourself with a relaxing spa session, you will actually start to see some physiological effects of regular massages as well.
Here are a few short-term, and long-term ways you may start to notice your monthly self-care trip is benefiting your health.
After Three Months of Routine Visits to Your Massage Therapist:
Lowered Anxiety and Stress Levels: Even after your first massage, you will start to notice that you feel more relaxed, which can be a major plus if you suffer from stress and anxiety. When our bodies experience stress, we tend to tense up our muscles, which leaves our bodies feeling fatigued and sore.
Just one massage helps loosen up these muscles, increase blood flow, and lower stress and anxiety. Breast cancer patients have even reportedfeeling less depressed and less angry when they incorporated regular massage into their schedule.
Reduced Chronic Back Pain: If you are suffering from the debilitating problems associated with chronic back pain, you know how much it can cut into your daily routine and leave you feeling frustrated, in addition to the pain you’re already experiencing.
Astudyfound that after 10 weeks of regular massage, people experiencing chronic back pain felt less discomfort, and even needed fewer painkillers to manage their symptoms. Cut down on the number of trips to your medicine cabinet with regular trips to see your massage therapist.
Help with Insomnia: Massages increase your serotonin levels, which aides in your ability to fall asleep, and stay asleep. You may find yourself relying on sleeping pills to get some shuteye, which nobody wants to have to take.
Unlike other sleep aids which can be harmful or addictive, you’ll experience no negative side effects from a massage, and you’ll find yourself able to fall asleep a little easier - especially after an evening massage.
After Six Months of Monthly Massage, You’ll Feel:
For Patients with Diabetes: If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, regular massage could impact your blood glucose levels. Especially when massages happen at the injection or site of absorption for insulin, there have been marked improvements observed in lowered blood glucose levels.
Additionally, regular, increased blood flow as a result of your monthly massages can help with neuropathy symptomsthat accompany diabetes, such as nerve pain. Make regular visits to your massage therapist to see improvements in your blood sugar levels, and feel like you’re getting seriously pampered, all at the same time.
Reduced Fibromyalgia Symptoms: Even after your first massage, if you experience the pain of fibromyalgia, you will notice decreased pain, but with regular massage, you will start to notice the following benefitsas well:
Better sleep (especially after evening sessions)
Improved muscle strength and function
Improved mental clarity (as a result of lowered stress)
● Decreased stress and anxiety
Focus for ADHD: Studies have shown that massage has been helpful in increasing focus and decreasing the stress and anxiety that can accompany ADHD, especially in children. While immediate improvements were shown in their ability to focus and be less squirmy and more attentive in class, continued massage therapy has also shown long-term behavioral improvementin the classroom.
There was also an uptick in confidence as well. If your child is particularly squirmy, regular massage may help them pay attention to what they need to be doing in the classroom, and at home.
What You’ll Feel After Twelve Months of Regular Monthly Massage:
Continued Improvements for Patients with Diabetes: After 12 months, regular massages, especially at the insulin injection or absorption site, can help Type 2 patients not only see lowered blood glucose levels as seen after six months of massages, but actually close to normal blood glucose levels. Additionally, you may also notice a reduction in the amount of inflammation you are experiencing as well.
Lowered Blood Pressure: A high blood pressure can leave you at risk for stroke and other major health complications, but it’s actually been proven that the relaxation or regular massage lowers your blood pressure. You can help keep your blood pressure in check, all while enjoying the rejuvenating benefits of massage, with regular sessions with a skilled massage therapist.
Additional Health Benefits: Other ways that regular massage can help improve your overall health? With improved blood flow comes improved immunity, making you less likely to pick up too cold that might be floating around your office, or at your kids’ school.
Are you training for a race, or spending a lot of time at the gym or in a pilates class? After an extended period of regular massages, you may also begin to notice an increased range of motion.
Because you are repeatedly reminding your muscles to relax and repeatedly releasing tension, you may find yourself feeling a little bendier in your yoga classes. Tense muscles make it much harder to find your full range of motion, and happy, relaxed muscles support an increased range of motion.
It’s not just one day a month to splurge on sixty to ninety minutes of pampering. Regular, monthly massages will leave you feeling healthier and happier, and truly make a difference in your overall well-being.