The stigma of growing old seems to revolve around a misconceived notion that aging ends in a loss of independence, health, strength, and cognitive function. Think of an elderly person and you might envision immobility, endless bottles of pills to treat diseases and illness, and trouble remembering things.
While some natural wear and tear does indeed occur on the body and brain as you age, there are countless non-pharmacological ways to promote natural healing and fight off many of the ailments that plague people as they get older. Don’t miss these top 7:
The mindfulness-cultivating practice of yoga plays an important role in senior health, specifically in relieving stress, soothing back and joint pain, boosting blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, building bone density, and managing weight. Older adults who experience osteoporosis, arthritis, hypertension, even Type 2 Diabetes can find aid in the gentle stretching, deep breathing, and meditation of yoga practice. The variety of yoga practice also fosters a kind and meaningful environment for all types of seniors – from those with mobility issues who need to sit in a chair to do yoga to those who simply seek the restorative, calming parts of it. If you or a loved one are looking for yoga for seniors classes, try your local senior center, YMCA, or use online sites like DoYogaWithMe.com to conduct a local search.
The olfactory sense of smell is a powerful conductor of brain stimulation and has been shown in various studies to have positive effects on brain health – from boosting memory and concentration, to combatting stress, relieving joint pain, and promoting better sleep. Essential oils can be diluted and wafted through an aroma diffuser, or even used sparingly as instructed to smell and/or apply to the skin. Oils with scents including lavender, bergamot, and sandalwood are known to help you relax, calm, and de-stress while rosemary, peppermint, and frankincense help to aid memory, improve focus, and and even alleviate headaches. Not a fan of essential oils? Burning candles or incense with your favorite scents, or simply self-soothing by massaging your own hands and feet with a fragrant lotion you enjoy can promote positive change.
Degenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s which result largely from a rapid loss of brain cells can be fought in part by regular and vigilant fine motor skill practice. Coloring, which involves attention to detail and the interaction of holding small objects and moving them around set paths, is one of those fine motor practices that may help (others would include knitting, crocheting, or origami). Coloring has also been shown to help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety by giving the person coloring a creative outlet to create something beautiful and positive. Seniors can find free printable coloring sheets on sites like DailyCaring.com.
Not only is exercise a staple practice for managing a healthy weight and preventing heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, but regular low-impact exercise has been shown to aid the longevity and overall health of elderly people altogether. 30 minutes of physical fitness a day boosts blood circulation, strengthens muscles, and builds bone mass helping elderly people fight off arthritis pain, cognitive decline, and osteoporosis. Low-impact exercise activities can include everything from mowing the lawn to swimming, taking brisk walks, dancing, playing tennis, and hiking.
One of the most common plagues amongst older adults is simply social isolation. When it becomes tougher to get around because of mobility issues, when you’re no longer able to drive yourself places, when connecting with others seems more difficult and technology problematic, older adults tend to stay in their own environment that gives them more control. There are myriad healing benefits to social interaction, however. Not only does engaging with others help boost your own mood and feelings of self-confidence and positivity, but interactive and real conversations with others has been shown to help stave off cognitive decline associated with dementia. Check with your local senior center or YMCA for social programs, sign up to take a class at the gym, join a faith group group, or find a way to volunteer in your community.
The natural wear and tear which simply accompanies aging can take its toll on the body. Older adults might naturally experience muscle weakness, joint stiffness, less dexterity, lower energy levels, and harder times seeing and hearing. Massage can aid many age-related aches and pains as well as provide stress-reducing relaxation and a boost in overall mood. Scientific research has shown significant improvements in everything from arthritis symptoms to low back pain through targeted and gentle pressure massage. Massage of the legs and feet can also help loosen stiff joints and tendons, enhancing flexibility and coordination which may aid in preventing a dangerous fall.
Supplements & Diet
The most important aspect of healing is that which comes from within. A healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean proteins should limit the intake of processed foods chockful of cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and bad fat. Eating healthy often means cooking all the food you eat, which can be tough for older adults. Staying hydrated is especially hard for seniors too, but vitally important to retaining mental clarity and balancing blood pressure. Sometimes over the counter vitamins, minerals, and oils can supplement what is lacking in a diet. For example, fish oil or flaxseed oil can infuse the body with brain-boosting Omega-3 fatty acids, while calcium and Vitamin D pills can help fight bone loss and osteoporosis.
The old school of thought used to be that aging gracefully meant limiting activity and avoiding exertion. This led many seniors to spend their Golden Years evading exercise, adventure, and travel. Over the past few decades, however, western culture has caught up to the world in realizing that it is in fact the opposite which is true. Embracing exercising, movement, and mindfulness, as well as continuing to eat right and try new things – these are the hallmarks of getting older and staying healthy.