The new year is a chance for new resolutions. Or perhaps what we really need is a refresh of previous plans, resolutions and goals that we have made many times before.
Why haven’t we succeeded? Were we too ambitious, too hopeful, too unrealistic to maintain the road forward. I think that, as we contemplate where we want to be, reflecting on where we have come from and what our goals are, we should remember that it’s the journey that matters, not the final destination.
As I look at the major pillars of healthy aging, the first area of focus is nutrition. Not dieting, not getting to a certain weight, but making good choices with the aim of feeling stronger, leaner and more energetic.
What we eat does indeed have a huge impact on our bodies. Everything from bone health to the risk of dementia is partially related to nutrition. So say yes to a variety of multicoloured fruits and vegetables, yes to low-fat dairy products, small amounts of nuts and healthy proteins. Yes to appropriate fibre choices and food that’s high in antioxidants. And say yes to smaller portions, balanced meals and more water. At the same time, steer clear of poor quality, fast food options, even when convenient and easy.
The second pillar is activity. My resolution is not to go to the gym more often. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and it hasn’t worked for me. My goal is to be more active every day, gym or not. Walk to the bus stop, take the stairs, meet a friend for tennis or squash or golf or skiing, not lunch or dinner. Skip the movie and try out trampolining, rock climbing, yoga or Pilates.
Let’s make activity the goal and watch our energy levels increase. When patients tell me they are chronically tired, one of the areas that often has been neglected is activity. Our muscles have memory and there is a correlation between exercise on a regular basis and energy. We no longer keep people in bed for days after surgery. Get up, get moving and keep moving.
The third pillar for healthy aging is all about social connectedness. We are less likely to suffer from dementia and more likely to stay healthy and independent when we are part of a community. When we continue to learn new things, to try out different things and to connect with others, we keep our brain growing and new wires and neural connections increasing. When we are emotionally involved with a project, a goal, a team or a vision, we demand more of ourselves and of others. Our confidence, self-esteem and overall well-being are impacted in a positive way.
You may choose volunteer work, working with schools, hospitals or for political causes. The what is not important; it is the how and why that matters. Working on something that matters to you allows you to avoids stagnation and isolation, which are the enemies of growth and development.
The fourth pillar for this house to stand tall is lifestyle. By that, I mean our stress levels and our intake of drugs and alcohol, our sleep patterns and the choices we make. Choose wisely, carefully and with the knowledge that you matter.
Sometimes we need to learn to say no. Saying no to something that is just too much for you is, in reality, saying yes to something else. If the cost to you – in terms of time, energy or whatever – is too great for you, just say no. Then you will have said yes to yourself.
It’s your time to eat healthy, your time to be active, your time to move forward along your chosen path. Now that is a good beginning to 2020.