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Healing Your Grief About Aging
100 Practical Ideas on Growing Older with Confidence, Meaning, and Grace
By Alan D. Wolfelt, Kirby J. Duvall
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. and Kirby J. Duvall, M.D.
All rights reserved.
Befriending the physical Challenges of Aging
"Like a lot of fellows around here,
I have a furniture problem.
My chest has fallen into my drawers."
— Billy Casper
Since it is the physical aspects of aging we tend to notice first, we've made this the first section of the book.
Yet even though our physical challenges might be (or become) significant, if we make the commitment to take care of our aging bodies as well as we can, we will feel better, have more energy, and age more slowly.
If you haven't already, commit to doing everything you can to improve or maintain your physical well-being. Your life will thank you for it.
EMBRACE THE FACT THAT YOU ARE NOT FOREVER YOUNG
"Middle age is always ten years older than you are."
— Jack Benny
Physical aging, we all know, is relentless from birth to old age. Yet still, it's hard to accept. The face looking back in the mirror doesn't reflect the feelings of the mind looking out, which still feels like that 20-year-old from long ago — young and attractive and strong.
Aging seems to catch people by surprise. At the time, we were shocked to realize we were having our 50th birthdays. How could that be? We didn't really feel that old.
Allow yourself to grieve the passing of years. Acknowledge the loss of your youth. Then, draw a mental line in the sand to signify your past and your future. When you are ready, step over the line and embrace your new, aged self. Start afresh from where you stand, right now
Nothing is constant but change. You will be happier, healthier, and age more gracefully if you recognize the simple fact that physically you cannot be forever young. But retaining your sense of wonder and enjoying each day — that is attainable.
What parts of your own aging process have you tried to deny? Make a list. How can you embrace these aspects of your changed self?
THINK TWICE ABOUT AGE-DEFYING PROCEDURES AND PRODUCTS
"There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love."
— Sophia Loren
The market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects that the $80 billion spent on anti-aging products in 2011 in the U.S. will grow to $114 billion in 2015, thanks to Baby Boomers growing older.
Approach anti-aging products and procedures thoughtfully. Think about what you want to achieve. If you want to turn back time 20 years, that's impossible. Be skeptical and realistic when purchasing a product or dishing out big money for procedures like facelifts or ongoing Botox treatments. Don't fall victim to false promises. The fountain of youth has yet to be found, and anything you do won't last forever.
Take this opportunity to ask yourself key questions about aging. For example, "Why is it so important for me to look young?" or "What do I think young people have that I don't?" Is what comes up real, or is it reflective of the media's anti-aging messages? Also, consider whether your self-worth has been tied to your appearance and what that means for you moving ahead.
Be that older person whose eyes sparkle bright from a well-worn face that speaks of living a full life now, today, versus in the fading past. You can redefine what it means to grow old. Make it what you want it to be.
Bring to mind older people whom you respect. Most likely, they convey a sense of wisdom, peace, and satisfaction in their lives. Set a mental compass to move in their direction.
ADAPT TO A PHYSICAL "NEW NORMAL"
"Maybe it's true that life begins at 50. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out."
— Phyllis Diller
As we age, our bodies change. Seemingly overnight, we can't read the menu or see well driving in the dark. We feel stiff in the mornings and take longer to get moving. When we are physically active, we're more tired the next day or we get injured more easily. Sometimes, chronic illnesses carried in our genes present themselves. Needless to say, we are not who we once were in our glory days.
Allow yourself to feel sad about your physical losses. Tell someone or journal about your past physical prowess. Own that these achievements are yours, despite the fact that you can no longer perform them.
When you're ready, move toward accepting your new physical reality. Brainstorm ways to adjust. Buy dimestore readers and carry them with you. Take time in the morning to stretch before heading out the door. Remember that you can't do eight hours of yard work anymore. Learn to manage your diabetes, arthritis, or high blood pressure.
When you resist these physical effects of aging, you feel frustrated. Maybe, like others, you get stuck in inaction. Tap into the relief that comes with saying, "Maybe I can no longer run 10ks, but I could run or walk a 5k."
Try out a new, ageless sport like tennis, skiing, golf, kayaking, sailing, or water aerobics. Who knows, you might still be doing it in your 80s.
Take inventory of your aging body. What is harder now than it used to be? What new challenges have cropped up? Redefine your physical abilities and find a doable solution or physical outlet that complements your 'new normal.'
PLAN FOR WELLNESS
"As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself."
— Adelle Davis
Wellness is defined as the pursuit of optimal health through responsible behavior choices. It goes beyond the conventional definition of health, i.e., the absence of disease. The dimensions of wellness include physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social health.
The first phase of wellness is awareness. Become aware of your health by doing a self-assessment to consider where you are on the wellness continuum.
The next phase is education. Seek out information about how to improve your health. Your physician, reputable books and websites, and other health professionals are good sources of this information.
Finally, take action on an intervention that can help improve the current state of your health.
Making a plan helps you act to improve your health. Write down your wellness goals and tell someone about them. For example, tell your spouse of your plan to eliminate fatty foods from your diet in order to lower your cholesterol and heart attack risk.
Work in rewards to keep yourself motivated — they can be simple, like coffee with a friend after working out.
Take inventory of how you are doing in each of the five wellness dimensions. Brainstorm solutions for the one that's least active.
SCHEDULE PREVENTIVE HEALTH SCREENINGS AND CHECKS
"If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health."
Due for a tune up? Just like your car, your body needs regular maintenance. Health screenings are good checks to make sure your various bodily systems are functioning well. Talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you.
Keep your shots up to date. Adults need a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years. Consider a flu shot each year. If you are over 65, also consider a pneumonia vaccine. If you have a chronic disease, get one sooner. Ask about the shingles vaccine as well.
There are specific health screenings for men and women. For example, men over 50 should consider a prostate cancer screening. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death for women. Women should receive a physical breast check annually and after age 40, a mammogram. Women should also get regular Pap smears, which can detect cervical cancer.
Don't forget all the standard tests that come with annual visits — cholesterol and blood pressure for heart disease, insulin check for diabetes, and more. If you haven't had an annual exam in the last year, schedule one today.
Having one person who knows your medical history and can watch for changes is critical as you age.
Are you current on your cancer screenings? Visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org and search the phrase "screening by age" to see a list of what's needed and when.
NOURISH YOUR AGING BODY
"The best way to detoxify is to stop putting toxic things into your body."
— Andrew Weil
Every time you open a health magazine there's new advice on which foods or nutrients you should be getting as you age. How do you sort through it all? Here are four well-tested ones that many of us don't get enough of:
Fish oil (omega 3 fatty acid). Omega 3 lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous heart rhythms, and strokes. It also reduces inflammation and joint pain. Take a supplement daily and eat fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and heart-healthy vegetable oils like canola, soybean, and olive.
B12. Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells and DNA. It also keeps your nervous system working properly. It's mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products. Older people are at risk for low vitamin B12. Multivitamins often don't contain enough B12.
Calcium. As our bodies age, we can't absorb as much calcium as we used to, making us more susceptible to osteoporosis and bone fractures. Women in menopause are especially at risk.
Green tea (antioxidants). Green tea has been used to treat ailments for 4,000 years. Recent studies show its high antioxidant content boosts the immune system and reduces infection.
Add these four nutrients to your daily routine for better health as you age.
EAT MORE HIGH-FIBER AND HIGH-VITAMIN FOODS
"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not."
As you get older, you may get less hungry. If you've experienced a recent death of a loved one or are grieving the passing of time, your appetite may also be suffering.
Concentrate on getting adequate fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your diet to maintain your health. A simple way to do this is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Challenge yourself to eat eight servings a day, or more. Fiber is also found in whole grains.
Another simple way to ensure you are eating healthy foods is to eat whole foods, or foods that are "close to nature." Avoid packaged foods as much as possible. When choosing packaged foods, buy those that have five or fewer ingredients — and words that you recognize.
Consider a Mediterranean diet. This eating tradition, most common in Greece, Italy, and Spain, is linked to good health. It promotes good fats, like avocados and olive oil, moderate fish and poultry, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Finally, try eating less to live longer. Studies of centenarians found that the majority lived in modest circumstances and ate less than average. Other studies show a reduction in calorie intake increases life expectancy. To decrease your calorie intake, follow the "three-quarters rule" and stop eating when you are three-quarters full.
The next time you go to the grocery store, select a few fruits or vegetables that you haven't had lately. Try them in a new recipe.
FEED YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
— Benjamin Franklin
It's a known scientific fact: as we age, our immune systems become less effective. We suffer from more infections, and our response to infections is more severe.
As we age, our cells begin to break down. Older cells produce fewer antioxidant enzymes, which are needed to eliminate "free radicals" — a byproduct of cell metabolism that can damage proteins and other molecules in our bodies. One way to combat this is to get more antioxidants through our diets.
Eat antioxidant-rich foods every day, including berries, red kidney beans, pinto beans, artichoke hearts, prunes, pecans, cherries, apples, and green tea. You might also consider taking an antioxidant supplement that includes the vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.
Also, eat your cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower. UCLA researchers found that a chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables switches on enzymes in specific immune cells that combat free radicals, according to a recent article in ScienceDaily.
More and more, researchers are finding that our guts play a key role in our immunity. Do you have chronic stomachaches or acid reflux? If so, work to solve these issues. One way is to improve your gut flora with probiotics — the healthy bacteria that live in our intestines and stomach. Eat yogurt rich in live cultures, or take a supplement.
Of course, good food, sleep, and exercise also strengthen immunity.
On your next grocery shopping trip, pick up one or two antioxidant-rich foods.
"I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man."
— Henry David Thoreau
Did you know that your body is about 60 percent water? No wonder you hear so much about drinking plenty of water! Every system in your body depends on water. Especially if you are focusing on your inward feelings right now, you may not feel thirsty or might forget to drink regularly.
Even mild dehydration of one to two percent loss of body weight can sap your energy and make you tired. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, little or no urination, muscle weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
Every day you lose water through sweating (noticeable and unnoticeable), exhaling, urinating, and bowel movements. You need to replace this loss by consuming beverages and foods that contain water — preferably just water and not too much fruit juice or soda. Other factors like exercise, the environment (including heat and humidity), and illnesses or health conditions influence your water needs.
How much water do you need? At least four to five cups a day at a minimum. Some experts advise up to eight cups a day to maintain good hydration.
Challenge yourself to drink more water. If you don't like the taste of plain water, flavor it with lemon or lime juice. Or take your favorite juice beverage and dilute it with half water.
IF YOU SMOKE, QUIT
"I'm more proud of quitting smoking than of anything else I've done in my life, including winning an Oscar."
— Christine Lahti
Excerpted from Healing Your Grief About Aging by Alan D. Wolfelt, Kirby J. Duvall. Copyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. and Kirby J. Duvall, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
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