Those of us who have a pulse also have risks ... risks of bad things happening at anytime, anyplace. Illness, loss, impairment, or accidents can suddenly be a major part of our day or even our life. It's like we have buzzards circling overhead wherever we go. When we're young, those buzzards are high above us, rarely a problem. As we get older, however, they descend, taking a nip out of us here and a nip there, ever more frequently the more years we have under our belt. Are we doomed to be aging road kill?
Good news! Recent research on aging tells us that our lifestyle is the major determinant of how we'll age. So what lifestyle can keep those buzzards away?
Lowering Our Risks
The first step in building resilience is to lower our risks of bad things happening. We all have our special assortment of risks, which are unique to us. Whether we inherited a higher risk for heart disease, cancer or bone fractures, or whether we lived a lifestyle that raised our risks, the first thing for us to do is to find out what our particular risks are. Then we can work with our doctor, read all about the condition, and do what we need to do to make it less likely we'll be bothered by these problems. Yes, today there's much we can do to lower our risk of sickness or of being impaired even from diseases which, when I was in medical school, were essentially death sentences.
Resilience vs. Endurance
Next, we need to work on building resilience. We all need resilience. Resilience is not the same as endurance but a lot closer to the meaning of durability. Resilience in physics is defined as the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
In human terms, it's the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, or adversity. Basically, resilience is the ability to take life's curve balls ... whatever they are, and to keep on truckin'; to take a physical or emotional hit without being knocked out of the game. Resilience is a necessary trait for aging successfully because the longer we live, the more likely (and more often) it is that we'll indeed have those buzzards nipping at us, trying to slow us down, get us depressed, or completely sideline us. When this happens we're in great danger of beginning a process of "circling the drain," (i.e. having one problem prevent us from doing what we need to do to keep strong, healthy, and happy which then causes more problems, which lead to more decline.
So, how do we get resilience? How can we develop aging muscles so we can either keep those buzzards away, or take their attacks without falling?
The answer, once again, lies in our lifestyle. True resilience comes from a lifestyle that pays attention to all the things that make us human and strong: the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual. If all these are strong we have a strong defense and a strong ability to recover. We're less likely to have life's hits hurt us too seriously, and we are more likely to bounce back from any of life's inevitable surprises. If, on the other hand, any of these are weakened, then we're vulnerable, and the buzzards seem to know it. And, once the feeding begins, those buzzards are less likely to leave.
Five Tips to Build Powerful Resilience:
1. Keep Moving. We all spend most of our day sitting. This raises our risks of bad things happening, and makes us less likely to recover from them if they do. We are creatures that are designed to move and require it for all systems to work as advertised.
2. Keep Connected. Once again, this is who we are. Like herd animals we flourish when we are regularly with others. Isolation is a killer. And when we are connected we also have that social support to overcome adversity in our lives. Despite the image of the lone and powerful action hero, we all need others to be all we can be.
3. Have a Purpose. Without purpose we wither. We have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and wander aimlessly, often depressed and without energy. Purpose, whatever it is for each of us, gives us passion and turbo charges all our systems: body, brain, and immune system -- making us super heroes. It doesn't have to be a grand purpose, it only needs to be real for you.
4. Shake It Up ... With Attitude! Try new things. Be a beginner with as much as possible. Learning and trying new things is like Miracle-Gro for our brains and keeps us young in body and mind. Being positive, learning and growing is the most common trait found in vibrant older adults.
5. Eat (and Drink) Like an Athlete. Yes, be concerned about your weight, but even more importantly, be concerned about your nutrition. We are finally tuned machines and when we eat mostly a Mediterranean-type diet (fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and some meat) and stay well hydrated with water-based drinks, we have the stamina, energy, and overall ability to live out loud, grabbing at all life has to offer.
It's not difficult, in fact it's fun to build a warrior-like resilience that will serve you well as you skip down life's path.
Dr. Roger Landry
Dr. Roger Landry is a preventive medicine physician who specializes in building environments that empower older adults to maximize their unique potential.
Trained at Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard University School of Public Health, he is the President of Masterpiece Living, a group of multi-discipline specialists in aging whom partner with communities to assist them in becoming destinations for continued growth.
"Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging"
by Dr. Roger Landry
Ebook at $9.95
This book is a guide for the reader of any age to rediscover the healthy lifestyle lessons of ancestors, to evaluate her own lifestyle, and to follow the roadmap of this knowledge to better health, robust resilience, and a more successful aging experience. But it is much more. This book is a call to action. Because we've learned that what we need to be healthy is not determined by the next new machine, or diet, or pill, but by the experience and lifestyle of eons of our ancestors; that these authentic needs are basic and should be easily met but are becoming rare in our fast-moving, high stress world. And because we've learned that so much more is possible as we age; that decline does need not define our aging experience.
Because of all this new knowledge, we have a moral imperative, we must act: to bring these authentic lifestyle elements back into our individual lives; to reboot our living environments to ensure that all who live in them are more likely to continue to grow as they age, and reduce the time they are sick, impaired, or dehumanized (compression of morbidity); and to commit to a public policy that facilitates rather than impedes our likelihood of living long and dying short.