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8 ways to retain a youthful attitude

Growing older is a rite of passage and worthy of celebrating. Discover eight things you can do to retain a youthful attitude that defies your years.

Age is a funny thing. As youngsters we’re impatient for those years to fast-forward: to experience that first day at big school, that first job, first kiss, first car or any number of things that will shape who we become. As years pass and we grow older, many of us look longingly back, dwelling on the roads we chose not to take instead of celebrating our achievements.

No matter what your life’s journey so far, be grateful for what you have, and for those who have enriched your life along the way. Growing older is a rite of passage; with it is the gaining of wisdom through experience, the joy that comes with grandchildren, winding back work commitments and embracing the newfound freedoms of retirement.

As you enter your twilight years, the right mindset will help you to look and feel good, stay as healthy as you can and continue to do the things you love.

Adjust your attitude

Lighten up and look at the funny side of life. Age really is more about your life’s purpose and attitude than the number of years you have lived on this earth. But if you’re concerned about getting older, take heart. There is evidence that suggests people become happier and more content as they get older.

A vibrant and even youthful attitude can not only have a powerful effect on ageing, it can help you to live longer. In the Blue Zones (five areas of the world where people live longer, happier and healthier lives) personality tests revealed they maintain a sunnier outlook on life and a deep sense of spirituality.

A vibrant and even youthful attitude can not only have a powerful effect on ageing, it can help you to live longer.

Unfortunately, many people see ageing as a loss when it doesn’t have to be. Clinical neuropsychologist Dr Leander Mitchell says to nix negative thoughts about ageing and instead work on changing your internal dialogue. “We are our own narrative — the story we tell ourselves, is who we become,” she says.

Becoming fearful or uncertain about events, your health or what might happen is not uncommon as people age. If you are feeling anxious, Dr Mitchell suggests challenging your thoughts. “Acknowledge anxious thoughts — but then step back and take on the scientist role. What is the evidence for and against what I think might happen?” Be aware of negative thought patterns when they arise and tackle them head on.

Affirmation: Fight fear with positivity.

Do mental aerobics to boost your brain power

Staying mentally agile can prevent cognitive decline and enhance your enjoyment of life. Training your brain to develop and strengthen neurological pathways becomes even more important as you age because humans are living a whole lot longer. A century ago, life expectancy for males in the Western world was 59, and 63 for females. Now it’s 81 and 85 respectively. According to Dementia Australia, engaging in mentally stimulating activities throughout life is associated with better cognitive function, reduced cognitive decline and associated risk of developing dementia.

Do something you enjoy and do it often: reading, puzzles or crosswords, whatever inspires you. Enrol at TAFE or university and study something you’ve always wanted to. Become a mentor to help others or use your skills to volunteer.
Harvard Health also recommends experimenting with things that require manual dexterity, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts to help prevent memory loss.

Affirmation: Limber up your brain.

Fight frailty

The risk of frailty increases as you age, but there are ways to keep that spring in your step. One of the key things is exercise.
Accredited exercise physiologist Richelle Street says exercise gives older Australians not only a connection with society, but a sense of satisfaction as they achieve personal fitness goals. “Most importantly exercise helps to prevent the cycle of inactivity: we do less, we move less, we lose muscle mass and balance so are more prone to falls — it gets worse and creates a downward spiral into frailty,” she says.

Street suggests cardiovascular exercise: 30 minutes a day of walking, swimming, dancing or cycling and a strength training program to prevent sarcopenia, a type of muscle loss (muscle atrophy) that occurs with immobility and/or ageing. “We need to combat that in a healthy way — you can’t take a pill or use a walking aid to make your muscles grow,” she says.

The key to sticking with an exercise routine is to do something you love. If can’t find something that’s a good fit — don’t give up. Street suggests choosing a few different types of exercise, and at the end of the month reflect on what you enjoyed more. “And give yourself credit for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things as you’re also stimulating new pathways to the brain,” she adds.

Affirmation: Get your body moving.

Surround yourself with people you love

After many years of working in palliative care, Bronnie Ware, the author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, gathered information about things her patients wished they’d done differently. Besides working less, among them was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” When life gets busy friendships can slide. Friendships do take work, but good friends can uplift you; feeling connected with those you care about releases oxytocin, a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, which can lower blood pressure and put a smile on your face.

True friendship is based on acceptance, respect and trust. If you’re attracting friendships that aren’t bringing joy to your life, look at your own sense of self-worth. Do you feel you don’t deserve positive friendships? Let go of any toxic friendships, friends who hurt or deplete you emotionally every time you see them.

Sometimes, we outgrow friendships. Know that is OK. Nurture friendships that are encouraging, friends that listen, who are honest and supportive.

Affirmation: If you haven’t already, find your tribe.

Defy your number with mindfulness

Everybody has that one friend who seems to defy their age and look a decade younger. Good genes? Pure luck? Stress-free lifestyle? It turns out they probably have healthy telomeres. A few decades ago, Nobel prize winner Dr Elizabeth Blackburn made an amazing discovery. The shortening of telomeres (the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that stop them wearing or fraying over time) is what causes cells to age. She says you can even reverse the process. In her book, The Telomere Effect, Dr Blackburn writes, “the ends of our chromosomes can actually lengthen and, as a result, ageing is a dynamic process that can be accelerated and slowed and, in some cases, even reversed.”

Staying mentally agile can prevent cognitive decline and enhance your enjoyment of life.

One way to protect your telomeres is through mental focus or mindfulness. “One study found that people who tend to focus their minds more on what they are currently doing have longer telomeres than people whose minds tend to wander more,” says Dr Blackburn.

Centre your thoughts on being in the present. If you find your mind drifting and rifling through unhelpful thoughts, focus on your breath. As you breathe in and out, concentrate on the flow and rhythm of your breath.

Affirmation: Make mindfulness a habit.

Stop the stoop

Older people can sometimes appear to be hunched over. Curvature of the back can sometimes occur. This mostly effects older women and can be linked to osteoporosis. But this condition (kyphosis) can also be partially attributed to a lifetime of poor posture, slouching and hunching over.

Practise standing straight and tall. According to the Mayo Clinic this means keeping your head level and in line with your body, pull in your tummy, bear weight mostly on the balls of your feet, don’t lock your knees and let your hands hang by your side.

When sitting, don’t cross your legs; your ankles should be in front of your knees. Stretch the top of your head towards the ceiling, keeping your shoulders relaxed.

As well as providing regular meditation to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit, yoga is an anti-ageing gift. Yoga builds inner strength and lean muscle which helps to regulate body weight, improves agility, flexibility and posture — and it can aid with arthritic or sciatic pain.

Another way to improve your posture is Pilates. It also strengthens the core and builds strength and flexibility, which are all-important as you age.

Affirmation: Improved posture helps you look and feel younger.

Eat right

Skin ages in two ways: intrinsically and extrinsically. “Intrinsically” is linked to the chronological age of a person’s organs and “extrinsically” is tied to facts such as exposure to UV rays, smoking, stress and poor nutrition. We now know smoking is a potential killer, and many now make proactive sun-smart measures a habit and work to reduce stressors.

Minimise foods that contain things like advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These can cause oxidative stress, which in turn can lead to premature wrinkles. AGEs exist in uncooked animal foods and, according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, frying or searing these foods introduces even more AGEs.

Another wrinkle deterrent is drinking lots of water. It helps to keep the skin plumped up and hydrated, which can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Eating foods high in antioxidants to protect the cells against free radicals also fights the visible signs of ageing. Eat produce that contains carotene like sweet potato, carrots, broccoli and kale, as well as berries and nuts.

For good heart health, which is important as you age, eat a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in nuts, seeds, fruits, beans, olive oil and whole grains. The key is the healthy fats component which lowers cholesterol.

To help reduce your risk of osteoporosis, which leads to brittle bones after age 50, eat foods high in calcium, including low-fat dairy and greens, and make sure you get a little sunshine — vitamin D increases calcium absorption.

The right diet can also help to protect against dementia. Fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to lower risk of dementia. Other foods to eat to feed your brain include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and blueberries.

Affirmation: Fuel your body with the right foods.

8 Embrace your uniqueness

In much of the Western world, the notion of ageing abounds in negative stereotypes. Researchers have shown that if you buy into the stereotype, it can come true for you. An American study by Becca Levy from Yale University and Ellen Langer from Harvard University showed that believing that old age automatically equals memory loss can turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t listen to ageist notions about seniors. Ignore the negativity. See ageing as an opportunity. Have you ever wanted to dance your way to the bus stop in the morning? Sing out loud in the grocery aisle? Or try to juggle a few oranges while you wait at the checkout? What about colouring your hair pink, just because? Taking up salsa dancing? Writing your first book? Watching a sunset with those you love? There’s no time like right now to start crossing things off your bucket list.

Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. And if those around you say you can’t or shouldn’t do certain things because you’re getting older, and you think why not? Then, be your own advocate. You don’t have to explain or justify. Don’t feel that you need to seek approval from others — just be you. There is only one person on this planet who sees and experiences life through your eyes and that is you.

Do what you can to find your inner peace. You don’t need someone else to tell you that you are of value. You are. Be bold. Be brave. Be the best version of yourself you can be. Eat ice cream. Stay up late. It’s your life story — what do you want the final chapters to say?

Affirmation: Your best years might just be yet to come.

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.

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