Tips for Resilient Aging 1

It’s well known that the population of the US and other Developed Countries is getting older, and this shift has many consequences.

A wide range of important stressors increase with age. Elderly people face many losses. Their friends and neighbors die, their appearance tends to drop below social standards for attractiveness, they typically become less agile and peppy. Eventually they often have to let go of their homes and many of their possessions; many people end up in assisted-living facilities with little beyond the things that fit into a small closet or chest.

This is, of course, only a tiny, hapharzardly selected, sample of stressors that tend to accompany the passage of years. Without regard to such details, the old quote from Bette Davis says it all “Getting old ain’t for sissies”. If you are smart, you will prepare for it.

Since it takes time and energy to develop techniques for enhancing resilience and turn them into personal habits, it is fortunate that resilience techniques are also have a myriad of benefits for dealing with any of life’s stages.

Several major studies have influenced our view of techniques that help us respond to aging with resilience. Our plan for this and the next few posts is to describe these influential bodies of evidence.

The first is based on research done by Herbert DeVries and colleagues. and summarized in a book entitled “Vigor Regained”.

DeVries determined “scientifically whether carefully planned and controlled exercise can help restore vigor to older people”, and solidly affirmed that it could. He found that sedentary people, even in their 70s,80s,or 90s were, after training, able to run a nonstop mile.

His sedentary elders were given a slowly increasing program that started with walking at a comfortable pace, eventually punctuating the walks with short periods of jogging, which were slowly increased to full jogging.

Could it be that some losses thought to be due to aging are to a greater extent, due to a shortage of exercise? DeVries points out that in a previous study called “Operation Sacktime”, college-age people who had been payed to stay entirely inactive over a period of two or three weeks lost their ability to adjust to strenuous activity as indicated in measures of the reactions of heart, lungs, circulation, and muscles. Physiological indicators of fitness were like those of sedentary elders.

How can you make use of this information? You could get a copy of Vigor Regained. It is out of print, but we searched for it and our first hit offered a copy for less than a dollar. Try Amazon or Abebooks.com.

The book is a bit technical in spots, but it isn’t necessary to focus on those details. Really, any source of information on how to develop a mild exercise program that can be slowly increased will probably do. Our main warnings are to be sure you are well enough to do the exercise before starting (ask your doctor), and avoid pushing too hard and turning it into grueling “Type A exercise”. (We see “Type A’s” at a park near our home, often many pounds overweight, running as hard as they can with dumbbells in their hands, oblivious to the harm they may be doing to themselves).

Make the experience positive. See if you can find a supportive friend to enjoy the experience with you.

Stretching was also an important part of his program. We think it’s a good idea to learn some yoga positions that provide stretching in a well-tested way. Signing up for a beginner’s yoga class is a good way to do that.

A third component of the program is relaxation. However, Devries did not develop a specific method of relaxation. To review some effective methods, just do a search for the term “relaxation” in this blog. Devries mentions Edmund Jacobson’s method of progressive relaxation, but does not provide a simple, self-taught way to induce deep relaxation. This is probably because he had discovered that a 15 minute brisk walk was more effective in producing relaxation than a tranquillizer.

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