Aging happens. We all know it, and sometimes we enjoy the fruits and freedoms it brings. But it’s also humbling to experience our bodies changing, forgetting names or facts, or realizing that the world is moving ever more swiftly around us—and we’re not necessarily driving the car! But resisting what we can’t control only adds to discomfort and unhappiness—and lamenting the inevitable shifts of time doesn’t change their reality.
Mindfulness helps us embrace change through accepting its inevitability while also actively pushing back where we can. Aging is here, and happening in every moment. This life experience accumulates whether we want it to or not. How we use it is up to us.
Change Is Always Possible
However you feel about growing older, it’s possible to experience it with a greater sense of ease. One simple formula remains the best medical advice we have when it comes to aging well: healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. We also now know that the brain continues to grow and change throughout our lives, and is influenced by our habitual patterns.
…And It Begins with Choice
You’ve lived one way for a long time; today, there are new considerations to act on. You get to choose how to navigate this new terrain. Here are a few proven tools to help you along the journey
1. Stay connected
Maybe your kids are older and you aren’t in touch with parents around school as much, or you no longer go to an office daily. Staying in touch with others may require more planning now, but social engagement is vital. Studies suggest up to one in five adults feels chronically lonely, and that loneliness correlates with poorer health. Whatever it takes, diligently carve out time with family, friends, or community.
2. Care for your mind
Ongoing learning may help prevent cognitive decline as you age. Sustain old hobbies, try out new ones, or take a class. If you are not working as much, consider volunteering or using your experience to offer consulting services in your community. Address mental health concerns if they arise; the risk for depression increases with age. Less computer and television time also correlates with better mental (and physical) health.
3. Re-evaluate your diet
The body’s needs change throughout our lives, and our diets should reflect this. Maybe you used to be able to eat or drink whatever you wanted, but now spicy foods upset your stomach, your alcohol tolerance has dropped, or you gain weight more easily. Mindfulness is a useful tool for exploring your habits with food and supporting steady steps toward creating new ones that meet your needs today.
4. Move more
Muscle mass starts receding as early as age 30, but exercise can counteract that. One study found that just 30 minutes of intense interval training three times a week restored the cellular health of muscles degraded by aging. Exercise also supports bone density, balance, agility, helps you sleep better, and can stave off depression. And consider this: Age-related weight gain is often misattributed to a changing metabolism, when it may stem from lessened physical activity. Even 10 minutes, several times weekly, improves your mood in the moment, and also increases mental and physical fitness in the long run. So, get moving!
5. Find your sleep formula
Sleep needs and patterns change throughout our lives. You may find yourself requiring more sleep, or perhaps less. Maybe a 20-minute midday nap is now what keeps you balanced. The quality of your sleep is also undermined by excessive alcohol, caffeine, and screen use, and can be affected by health issues like menopausal symptoms, heartburn, or medications. And guess what? Sleep often improves with regular meditation.
6. Practice mindfulness
Stress is one of the biggest health-risk factors in our lives, greatly impacting both mental and physical health. Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve your emotional well-being. It also improves focus, supports habit change, and may help protect your memory. Remember, there is no “perfect” way to meditate. It’s OK when your mind wanders, just as it’s OK if you now sit in a chair instead of on a cushion. Whatever happens, it’s normal.
Get Started, Wherever You Are
One of the best truths about aging is that we’re never too old to learn! What if we use our slightly wiser perspective to examine habits that hinder our ability to embrace change—habits like resistance, rationalization, and procrastination? Focusing on diet and exercise helps you physically and offers opportunities to learn new skills. Maintaining or expanding your social circles provides stimulation, connection, and maybe new experiences. Mindfulness meditation helps your brain, in part by minimizing negativity bias, which makes unpleasant thoughts (Aging is awful!) stickier than more pleasant ones (I can adjust and still enjoy life as I age).
If we choose it, we might even find this new landscape, and all the paths and vistas it affords, a welcome change