For the Insider
Important: Make sure you consult your health care provider before taking on a new exercise or health and wellness plan. Talk to your doctor if you plan to start something new or more vigorous, especially if you haven’t been active recently. Once a medical professional gives you clearance, try some of the ideas below:
Being active is important at any age, however as we get older some of the day-to-day tasks that helped us stay active start to become less frequent. Less cleaning, less work, less taxiing around, and less chasing after babies. Webster’s dictionary defines “activity” as vigorous or energetic action. So how do we stay active when the activities we are used to doing are gone?
Staying active is not just about physical exercises and activities. It is equally as important to take care of your mind. Multiple times during the day you should take a few minutes to clear your mind. You can do this in many ways. One tried and true method is called box breathing. This is a simple technique that you can do any time to reset, regain focus and relax. Focused breathing calms nerves and relieves stress by helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system. This method focuses on four components of the breath: the inhale, breath hold, the exhale, and breath hold. Box breathing emphasizes control and allows your body to make full use of the air.
1. Sit with your back straight against a wall, in a chair or in a meditative posture.
2. Soften your gaze and turn your eyes inward. Focus on your count and your breath (the more you focus on your breathing, the more your mind will clear as its only focus is the task at hand).
3. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 and hold for same count.
4. Exhale for the same 4 seconds, count and hold again for the same count (force all the air out of lungs).
5. Repeat at least 3 times.
Box breathing has numerous benefits such as mental clarity and focus, increased blood flow to heart and lungs, increased energy, regulation of the nervous system, reduces the effects of anxiety and stress, helps lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improves sleep patterns.
Proper nutrition can go by the wayside as seniors are sometimes cooking for less people or possibly unable to shop for themselves. Health Coach Christine Cook works with seniors and reminds us that “it is important to not get into a food rut. Eating the same foods week after week can result in missing out on nutrients. By varying your diet you can ensure that you get a wide variety of vitamins, phytonutrients and minerals. Consider swapping out your tried and true veggies and fruits for some that you may not have had in some time. Your body will appreciate the variety and be healthier for it.”
In addition to proper nutrition, keeping social connections is vital. This includes, family, friends, neighbors, and social groups. If in-person, socially distanced visits are not possible, there are options. Christine suggests that if you have not yet embraced the apps and programs that allow for video visits now might be a good time to learn. Of course, communicating on the telephone is always a great way to stay connected with others too. A bonus is to have a regular day and time you plan to “visit.” The joy of looking forward to seeing a loved one is just as important to your mental health as the visit itself.
Being able to self-regulate stress and anxiety, eating the rainbow during meals, and maintaining human connection are instrumental to staying healthy. It is still essential to be kind to your body and listen to it. Although we don’t always listen to our gut, this is one time where respecting that intuition is key. If you’re not feeling well, don’t push it. Cut back on the time, distance, or intensity of your scheduled exercise. What should exercise look like? It will be different for everyone, however you should start with five to 10 minutes to warm up and make sure to include a cool down. Plan to start slowly and boost your activity level gradually unless you are already exercising frequently and vigorously. Some example of appropriate activities are walking, sports, swimming, dancing, climbing stairs, household chores, and cognitive activities.
Whatever you select, splurge on proper gear! You don’t need a lot of active clothing, you just need it to be suitable. Choose clothes and shoes designed for your type of exercise. The clothing should fit you correctly, be moisture wicking or insulating (depending on the season). If you are too hot or too cold, you will most likely not enjoy yourself, potentially cause a secondary problem, or be forced to stop exercising. In New Hampshire we need to dress properly for cold-weather outside workouts to avoid hypothermia. Depending on the temperature, wear layers you can peel off as you warm up (don’t forget gloves). Proper footwear is essential too. Just because shoes may look good, doesn’t mean they are appropriate or supportive. Be sure to replace shoes as cushioning wears out.
If you’re not as mobile or have trouble getting around, there are lots of other options. Learning something new is part of staying healthy. Playing cards, internet games, listening to or playing music, watching movies, gardening, foreign language, and arts and crafts. No matter what your passion is, there are plenty of options to keep your mind and body healthy at any age.
(Crystal Reynolds is one of the owners at 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)