Stand Up for Healthy Aging!

Sitting kills. You only have to look around to see the consequences – bigger waist circumference, higher body mass index, obesity, Type II diabetes, high blood triglycerides and cholesterol and low levels of the good cholesterol HDL. High blood pressure, risk of stroke, higher overall death rates increase as we sit longer. Not a pretty picture.

Once thought that hitting the gym was the answer, studies are now finding that sitting for many hours each day whether you exercise or not is not good for your health. Leader of the pack is Dr. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who back in 1999 coined the term Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) when he observed that people who ate more and did not gain weight were moving more than they realized. What seemed important were “the thousands of minor movements each day” that they spontaneously made. Levine’s group found that even with intense exercise once a day health markers such as blood cholesterol, sugar and triglyceride levels remained high. Marc Hamilton, another NEAT disciple, found that standing up is the most effective NEAT activity and stimulates the enzymes that break down fat and triglycerides. The NEAT theory and these findings ran contrary to traditional exercise physiology recommendations of intense exercise once a day 3 to 5 times a week. His meticulous work is a wake-up call to the fact that once a day exercise does not replace being active all day. The importance of NEAT finally is receiving the recognition it deserves.

Levine’s work helped me interpret research I was doing at NASA. In 1992 I wondered why, despite hours of intense aerobic and resistive exercise in space, astronaut health was not fully protected. In ground studies with volunteers lying continuously in bed to induce space-like changes, I asked if the gravity vector, absent in space, was the missing link needed to make exercise effective. I  had subjects  stand by their bed for 15 minutes every hour throughout the day or stand and walk on a treadmill for an equal time. To my surprise, standing was at least and sometimes more effective than walking on the treadmill.  It was also not how long they remained standing but how many times they changed posture.

Merely standing 16 times a day was enough in my studies to prevent the consequences of lying in bed 24 hours a day. The smaller postural change from sitting to standing would be expected to require more than that – at least twice that, 32 times a day or standing up roughly every 30 minutes.

By lying in bed or sitting for long stretches you are removing the important physiological signal that standing up provides. Standing is more than just another small movement. In an earlier blog I talked about the importance to Third Age Health of using gravity

At one of my talks someone complained that he would be fired if he got up so many times at work. Asked if he drank water, he said he always had a bottle on his desk. In the old days you would need a trip to the water-fountain. I suggested he move the bottle away from reach.

Being able to stand up helps you remain independent. Structure your life until standing up becomes a habit again.

Does Getting Older in Years Mean Getting Old?

We all want to be healthy and independent.Whatever our condition, accepting it and doing whatever we can, brings us closer to being and feeling better. No setback is permanent. Anything can be changed.  Hoping for things to be the way they were is unrealistic but resigning oneself to steady decline is just as wasteful. As people live longer it is a time to enjoy life. Feeling good helps but it does not just happen. It takes awareness and a personal commitment to work at staying healthy and aging well especially in these modern times.

Healthy Aging is about keeping up your health in good condition as the years go by. But, on its own, it is not all that goes into making us fit to enjoy daily life. Mental attitude, our interaction with ourselves, others and the world around us can express itself in emotions, our behavior and can impact our health both postively and negatively as we go through the journey of life.

Healthy Aging
Good health at any age is the result of applying healthy habits. These include:
  • Keeping your response to stress in check.
  • Recovery and resilience. Managing your time to bounce back from stress, activities, commitments or sickness.
  • Being active all day every day such as a good walk with friends, swimming, gardening.
  • Drinking plenty of water and eating good, nourishing food in proportion to your level of activity.
  • A good night's sleep.
  • Keeping good personal hygiene habits to curb sources of infection and inflammation 
Aging Well
Unlike Healthy Aging, being well is not about what you do but how you perceive and evaluate the world around you as well as your own feelings towards yourself and others. If you anticipate aging with apprehension or fear, like the loss of independence, memory, loved ones, your reaction will be stressful. It will emotionally drag you down, depress you, age you, and keep you awake nights. It will affect your eating habits, your desire to socialize, your sex life, health and happiness.

Studies show that those that live to 100 have learned to bounce back from stress.To age well and be healthy learn to sway with the punches. Shed bad habits, -- smoking, drinking too much alcohol, taking too many drugs, even if prescribed. Ask your doctor if you really need all of them. Feeling pain? Try alternative methods first before popping pain pills; try meditation to relax or a massage. Adapt your attitude and outlook, let go of old grudges, perceptions and fears over which you have no control. Allow yourself to accept, receive and uncritically enjoy each moment in the world around you.

Life is a game of snakes and ladders.Wherever you are, enjoy your daily awareness; be willing to improve; make a small change in habits; adopt non-medicinal, low-cost solutions. Decide to live better every day. In the process you will reduce stress and live a longer happier life.

How to Take Charge of Your Health

John Glenn at age 77 wanted to fly again in space and he did. Former President George H. Bush celebrated his 80th birthday in June 2004 by parachuting twice 13,000ft out of a plane. Bush's message "Get out and do something. Don't just sit around watching TV!" So what is it you always wanted to do? Now is your chance if you take charge of your health.

Many of us worry about having the resources to live out our years. We save and seek advice from financial brokers about how to invest the money we earn. But few of us spend as much effort to similarly assess our health, to take precautions to remain healthy, active and independent for as long as we live.

I have seen friends and relatives thrown in the depths of depression at the sight of their first grey hair or the thought of approaching a 40th or 50th birthday. For most any thoughts of health are shelved after the party is over. But whether you turn 25 or 85 is there a better time than now to begin checking out your health assets, just as you do your financial assets?

The significance of people taking age milestones seriously only hit me after I retired from NASA. I now had the time to think through the broad impact of what I had learned from space research. I knew that I held little recognized knowledge about how to hold onto vibrant good health. My mission and responsibility then became clear. It is to help you, whatever your age, be healthy and age well by sharing with you knowledge, experience and low-cost readily available solutions.

My experiences have brought me greater insight into why some enjoy vibrant aging whereas those around them do not. And why many individuals, even children, now suffer from illnesses that only old people used to get. From the thousands I have talked to over the years, this is what I have learned:
• More than death, you are worried about pain and suffering
• You want to keep your brain working well
• You want to remain healthy and independent as long as you live - you do not want to live out your years in a nursing home
• You want to have fun, feel energized and enjoy life, love and the pursuit of happiness

So what are the odds of success? It is a fact that people are living longer. At 50, you may have as much as another 50 years ahead of you. You have the chance to do it right and decide to adopt better health habits now. Clearly staying alive and drifting through the rest of your years watching TV is wasteful. A new approach is needed.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
People asked you that question when you were a child. They were not expecting you to think much further than 30. Use your second chance as your landmark to begin your Health Asset Plan. Just as you started a financial portfolio, with savings habits and investments intended to see you through life, it is time to start taking a good hard look at your health habits. Are you saving, squandering or going into debt?

I know that’s a lot to figure out, and you may not have an answer for yourself just yet. But help is on the way.

The plan

Living longer comes with a new sense of freedom. Your early life was spent mostly doing what you thought others told you or wanted you to do. Your children may have grown up or left the nest. Your responsibilities may be changing. But beware. This is not a call to revolt. This is about taking stock and taking action – taking responsibility for your health.

Step 1. Become Aware. Step back from where you are and what you’re doing – and look at yourself.  Are you doing what you want to do? Are you living how you want to live? Do you have the ability to do the things you want to do, and if so, why aren’t you doing those things? 
Step 2. Decide to be Healthy. If you don’t have the ability to do the things you want to do, are you willing to begin taking action now to eventually get to that point? It is not enough to know and plan. You need to take charge of building your Health Assets step at a time.
Step 3. Get Started. Assess. Whatever your age, get started today by completing our free Health Assets self-assessment. You can get it by signing up for our Newsletter. When you have completed it, go back and re-read the questionnaire as well as your answers. Where are your strengths and what needs work?
Step 4. Develop your Personal Health Investment Plan. You can do whatever it is you want to do. You just have to first, know what you want, and secondly, know how to get it. If you don’t know how to get it, find out how by doing research, reading, asking questions, taking initiative, asking more questions, and learning as much as you can.
Step 5. Set Milestones. Establish Intermediate Objectives. Break it down to manageable goals. Visualize yourself. How do you see yourself in 20 years?
Step 6. Take Action. Focus your attention on one item that needs work. Find solutions. Take up meditation to relieve stress. Take a step at a time and work on it until it becomes a new health habit. Or seek help and guidance through personal health coaching.
Step 7. Check your progress by completing the self-assessment questionnaire once more. What a difference!!
Step 8. Reward yourself and Celebrate.

It does no good to be financially independent in your old age, in fact at any age, if you are not physically and mentally independent enough to enjoy it. Asked about what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama answered, "Man.... Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

On your journey toward your desired lifestyle, many things will try and hold you back. Don’t let yourself be one of them.

Leave your comments, enter the conversation. We are all in this together.

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

Meditation – The Reminder

by George Danellis    

This is a follow up for Third Age readers to my post on how to get started with meditation. If you didn’t see that article or would like a refresher, you can check it out here.

As I noted previously the benefits of a regular meditation practice are well known today, even in the West, where meditation has not been a cultural tradition: improved health and well-being, greater patience and calm (even in dealing with those perpetually “difficult” situations), heightened effectiveness in work and personal activities, and even more empathy for our fellow beings.

But there is one challenge to realizing these benefits: meditation is not a push-button solution. And if there is one thing clear about 21st century western culture in general, it’s that we like our solutions quick and easy. And the messaging we get every day touts a lot of these quick and easy solutions, even while we (mostly) know better. As Dr. Joan herself emphasizes, it's up to us to become active participants in our lives. It’s no different with meditation. Luckily for us, our natural state is un-contrived awareness, which means that with only a small amount of meditation each day shifts do occur.

Please know that you are definitely not alone if at some point you started and then stopped a meditation practice, or you just can’t imagine sitting quietly with your thoughts and emotions for more than 30 seconds. I encourage you to keep trying. Because in this age of constant sensory input, the one thing that is pretty much guaranteed to improve the quality of your existence is to develop a greater awareness of what is actually going on at any given time. And in the opinion of several hundred million people worldwide a key to doing this is through meditation. So here are a few additional thoughts (no pun intended) to keep us on track:

A dog barks, the mind thinks. Thoughts are the natural product of the mind, and each of us has our own ingrained patterns. The key is to allow thoughts to come and then to pass, which they will do if you allow them.

Your mind will wander. When you become aware that you have strayed into planning next weekend’s activities, or have been reviewing that business meeting that went poorly, just let it go. Gently bring your attention back to your breath, without self-judgment. Consider that it’s wonderful that you are even working to develop this capability.

Not too loose, not too tight. This is the classic instruction. Mindful awareness is not about stopping or blocking your stream of thoughts or emotions, regardless of what you may have heard. It is about becoming more aware of what’s going on. And when you are sitting quietly it can become readily apparent what is happening in your mind! So neither zone out, nor be too intense. And over time the seemingly incessant stream of thoughts will likely begin to quiet.

It’s called practice for a reason. The more you do it, the greater the benefits. Over time you will start to understand why the great meditators spend years in retreat.

Take it into the world. Any time you bring your attention to what is going on you are in fact already meditating. During your everyday existence practice bringing your awareness to any situation. Quietly observe a flower, drinking in it's colors and aroma. Likewise notice when you have been hooked by a thought in the middle of a conversation, rather than actually hearing what the other person is saying, and softly return your awareness to the conversation. Notice the flavor, temperature or sensation when you drink a beverage. And when ‘negative’ emotions arise, like fear, aggression or anxiety, gently bring your attention to what’s going on, including any sensations in your body. Just notice, that's all.

Becoming more aware of what goes on with your thoughts and emotions is a key step to working with them.
By making meditation a priority in your life, even giving it just 20 minutes a day, you will see things in a whole new way.
George is an aspiring delusion buster, surfer and snowboarder, and advises organizations and municipalities on how to develop and act on their Sustainability Visions.