by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
When one reaches a certain age, a lot of the major events of life such as marriage, raising children etc. would have been over, and there may be things that one wishes to have done differently. However, thinking about past events and regretting your decisions will not make any difference at this point: it is useless. Believe that you have done your best at each of the major junctions of your life journey given the circumstances at that time, and move on.
As far as work is concerned, don’t call it quits. As long as your faculties are functional, keep working. If you are wheelchair bound, well, at least you can talk, read and write! The idea is to keep yourself active, and to find meaning in what you do.
Enough has been said about the need to exercise, but the importance of exercise cannot be overstated. As one ages, the need for exercise goes up. One should do two types of exercises: cardiovascular and strength training. You need to get your heart rate going, and keep your muscle strength. The best place to exercise would be outdoors, in nature. The wilder it is, the better. If the path you walk is full of little obstructions so that you have to clear it to walk is best.
As the Buddha said, moderation is key. Excess of anything kills. You may have all kinds of food, even wine, but all in moderate quantity. Similarly, move towards a more plant-based diet, without completely eliminating meat. Smoking is completely forbidden, as is drinking hard core alcohol.
Loneliness kills. Be socially active. Join clubs, associations and societies. Your social circle should constantly grow. The kind of skills you will exercise when meeting with people will help your brain stay young.
It is good to have a senior citizens’ club of people of the same age and interests. However, it pays to interact with people younger than you too. This is because the kind of social skills you will use with a younger crowd may be different from that you use with an older crowd. Also, the topics you discuss, the vocabulary you use, even the body language – all will be different.
Do not forget your annual health check-up. Our body is a like a vehicle that needs regular servicing. Don’t wait till it breaks down completely. Do regular medical tests. Check your weight, sugar level, cholesterol and blood pressure regularly. Colorectal cancer screening is recommended after the age of 60. A colonoscopy is advised every 10 years. For men, prostate cancer screening is important as are breast exam and mammogram for women. Again, for women, a pap smear, pelvic exam and HPV test are necessary. Finally, get your eyes and teeth checked regularly.
You are only as old as you think! If you believe you have become too old to do anything productive, you will become bed-ridden very fast. Do believe that you are still young, and you can do things within reason. Think of yourself as well-aged, not old. Keep your spirits up, and do things that you enjoy doing now.
The older one is, the more accumulated knowledge and wisdom one has. Many older people have extra ordinary pattern recognition skills and crystallised intelligence. Language and vocabulary also do not decline; in fact only get better as one ages. You have to appreciate these strengths of yours, and make good use of it. In fact, there are certain areas of life where old age is a strength, rather than a weakness; for example, politics. A serious career in politics starts after the age of 50! We have many scientists, authors and poets who have worked and been productive well into their 80’s.
Promote cognitive health through travelling, immersing yourself in new activities and situations, and spending time with grandchildren. Learn a new skill, or an instrument. Such experiential learning will go a long way in keeping the neural pathways in your brain rejuvenating. Neuro plasticity of the brain ensures that no matter how old you are, the brain can grow new neural pathways. Thus, new learning ensures that your brain keeps growing, instead of falling into disuse and rusting.
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