Aging Actively

active seniorsAging is a natural process. From the growing pains experienced during the teenage years to declining health in the later years, people have become accustomed to what to expect as they age, both physically and mentally.

Today, as revolutionary advancements are being made in healthcare, we can expect to live longer than ever, with the average life expectancy in the U.S. reaching 76.2 years for men and 81.1 years for women, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And as the first of the baby-boomer generation, or those born between 1946 and 1964, reached age 65 in 2011, approximately 75 million Americans are rapidly approaching their retirement years. While preparations for the later years of life usually consist of retirement and financial planning to ensure a safe, stable future, one thing is vital to a long, fulfilling life—a commitment to staying active.

Aging Issues

As people age, many of the daily tasks they were once accustomed to performing, such as loading a dishwasher, remembering an acquaintance’s name or climbing the stairs, become more difficult. Common age-related problems can include aches and pains, arthritis, sleep deprivation, memory loss and even more severe, chronic conditions like heart disease.

But aren’t people genetically predisposed to developing many of these issues? According to Hussein Elsangak, D.C., assistant professor in the Clinical Sciences Department at Life University, not really. “Now, it has been shown that genetic control may contribute to as little as 20 percent of [a person’s] outcome, which means that genetics load the gun, but what you do with your surrounding environment pulls the trigger,” Elsangak says.

Ultimately, whether the issue or problem is age-related or due to a person’s genetics, there is a common trend among many elderly people to be passive when it comes to caring for their health. “One of the most common issues as people age is that they ignore minor things and warning signs, like aches and pains or nagging types of problems, thinking that they will go away,” says Eric Plasker, D.C., author and speaker with The Family Practice in Marietta, Ga. “One day, they will wake up in a crisis. Things they could once bear become unbearable, and they require much more attention.”

Achieving an Active, Healthy Life

While detection and being proactive are important when issues and problems arise, it’s evident that an active lifestyle is fundamental to a person’s health, especially in one’s elder years. “Something as simple as walking can have significant physical and mental implications,” says Ron Kirk, D.C., a professor at LIFE specializing in health promotion. “Pills, capsules and potions are easy, but getting active has to become a habit.”

To promote this active lifestyle, LIFE created the Just Start Walking program, which can become significantly beneficial to the elderly as more strenuous forms of exercise, like running or tennis, can be painful due to arthritis or back and hip problems. “The best thing about Just Start Walking is that anyone can do it, and it doesn’t cost anything,” Kirk says. “It’s simple and healthy, and if you are aging, it’s very aging-friendly because most people can still walk.”

Walking can have a positive effect on one’s mental health as well, according to a study by the University of Illinois. The study followed 65 previously sedentary people aged 59 to 80 for one year. After walking at a normal pace for 40 minutes, three times a week, scientists noticed enhancements in brain functions and a better performance in cognitive activities. “If you want to keep your brain, stay active,” Kirk says.

Donn Force, a 65-year-old, semi-retired chiropractor from Fairmount, Ind., knows first-hand what it takes to maintain health during one’s later years. Now a trainer who enjoys exercising with boxing, dancing and resistance exercises, Force agrees that activity is key. “Get moving,” he says. “Focus on the legs, since they hold the key to correcting many organic disorders. When your legs go, you go. The key to aging in a healthy way is mental thinking—discipline and consistency.”

But a long, healthy life is not solely dependent on an active lifestyle; eating well is important, too. “The recommendation is to eat fruits and vegetables that have high ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity,” Elsangak says. “Strawberries, blueberries and spinach are among the highest.” Elsangak also suggests reducing the daily amount of calorie intake by 20 to 30 percent, as well as being mindful of foods that fight disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Continuing Chiropractic Care

Since one of the most common aging-related issues is back pain, it’s no surprise that Chiropractic has become a regular form of care for many aging people. “As we age, we begin to slump more, and our spine becomes more rigid,” Kirk says. “Chiropractic can help improve posture and remove structural and neurological interference in the spine.”

However, Kirk warns that for chiropractic care to be fully effective, it needs to become part of a larger routine. “People can’t solely be dependent on a chiropractic adjustment; it needs to be part of a chiropractic lifestyle,” he says. “People need to be responsible for their own health. We want to empower people, but we want them to understand that this is their health and life.”

Elsangak explains that “the role of the chiropractor in anti-aging is to regulate the internal body environment and homeostasis.” This can be done through adjustments, spinal hygiene, lifestyle modification, patient education, wellness promotion and dietary recommendations.

To help people further understand how to age in a healthy way and the importance of chiropractic care to the aging process, Plasker created the 100 Year Lifestyle, a “holistic total-life program” that addresses everything from nutrition and exercise to mental agility and achieving a sense of purpose. Now a series of books, Plasker’s program seeks to teach people how to have a large quantity of high-quality years.

“Chiropractic care can make a big difference for a lot of the [common aging problems] because if the nervous system is functioning properly, then everything else works better,” Plasker explains. “But, most importantly, people should have a chiropractic checkup beginning at birth and throughout their lifetime, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.”

A Lifelong Commitment

While maintaining good health during the aging process will contribute to longevity, all four chiropractors agreed that a healthy lifestyle is the goal at every stage of life, especially considering the current trend toward increased obesity rates. “We are under-slept, over-fed and under-exercised in America,” Kirk says. “It’s not healthy, and with the elderly, these trends are already there.” For the elderly who have not previously been exercising regularly, to avoid potential injury, Kirk suggests easing into the process and having a health assessment before starting a training program.

From eating the right types of foods to consistent activity to regular chiropractic adjustments, there are ways to promote health well into the future. However, for those old and young, a commitment to regular activity and maintaining health has to become a lifestyle choice. “We have all of this health knowledge,” Kirk says. “Health knowledge is great, but it really has power when we apply it. If it doesn’t affect our lifestyle, then whatever knowledge we have isn’t worth a hill of beans.”