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Age well

Positive aging: make it personal

Are you letting your age define who you are? Here's how to defy your own inner critic — and society's obsession with youth — to make the most of your wiser years.

"Simply put, we're living longer," says Dr. Monique Camerlain, a clinical rheumatologist in Quebec. "Unfortunately, society isn't catching up to us! We still live in a culture centered on youth and that can lead to both external and internal forces that limit our potential as we age."

And aging today really is limitless — at least it can be. "We are living with a new generation of boomers who are coming of age and are redefining what it means to grow old," she says. "These boomers are generally more educated, better travelled and want to serve and stay active in their communities." David Suzuki, Karen Kain and Bill Clinton are prime examples.

In light of all that, ageism — the prejudice against people based on age and disability — still exists. When it's from an outside source, we can be ignored, underestimated and disrespected. But ageism can also be internal. We practice ageism on ourselves when we think our life is over or that we have no value simply because we've reached a certain age. And that can lead to low self-esteem, depression and isolation.

So, how do we fight that? How do we join this group of energetic, do-good feel-good group of boomers?

According to Dr. Camerlain, you have to hit ageism on three counts: chronologically, physically and psychologically. Read on to find out how.

Chronology: the facts behind the numbers

"The number 65 has become a mental barrier," explains Dr. Camerlain. "That's when most Canadians become eligible for Old Age Security. But 65 isn't 'old age' any longer."

Recent numbers from Statistics Canada back her up: Life expectancy in Canada has risen to 78 years for men, 83 for women. And that throws the whole "old at 65" right out the window.

The lesson here is to take positive steps to make the most of your life, regardless of your age. Start by making better physical and emotional lifestyle choices — like the ones outlined in the following slides.

Move to improve

Keeping active can help prevent health problems including osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Regular physical activity can also improve your quality of life by helping you feel stronger and healthier, and allowing you to stay independent longer.

So how much physical activity should you get if you're 65 or older?

According to Canada's Physical Activity Guide, physical activity tips for older adults:

  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week — walking briskly, riding a bike, jogging and cross-country skiing for example.
  • Strengthen your muscles and bones. At least twice a week include muscle-strengthening (lifting weights, climbing stairs, digging in your garden) and bone-strengthening (yoga, walking or running) activities.
  • Start slow and build up. Take the stairs. Carry your groceries home. Walk whenever you can. Since very little bit helps, move around as often as possible.
  • See your healthcare provider — if you're unsure as to what exercises and activities are right for you, especially if you have a medical condition.
Eat well, age well

Dr. Camerlain says that it's important to pay extra attention to what and how much we eat because our nutritional needs change as we age. And, if our living situation has changed, we may be eating alone, have decreased appetite and may not be getting enough nutrients.

Eating as recommended by Canada's Food Guide will help meet your vitamin, mineral and nutrient needs. Eating right will also help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease and some types of cancer. And you'll have more energy!

In some cases, however, your healthcare provider or dietitian may recommend a vitamin/mineral supplement; for example, if you aren't following Canada's Food Guide, have a medical condition, had surgery or have a severe infection.

Once you're over the age of 50, Canada's Food Guide recommends that you get the following number of servings every day:

  • Fruits and vegetables — 7 (men and women)
  • Grain products — 7 (men); 6 (women)
  • Milk and alternatives — 3 (men and women)
  • Meat and alternatives — 3 (men); 2 (women)

You'll also need to increase your vitamin D intake. Along with following Canada's Food Guide, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. That's important since vitamin D and calcium help keep bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older adults.

Train your brain

"We now know that, just like physical activity, we must also work our brain to help keep it healthy," advises Dr. Monique Camerlain. The Alzheimer Society says that certain studies tend to show that keeping your brain active may also help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Challenging yourself with mental stimulation can be done in a number of fun ways:

  • Play games — crosswords puzzles, chess, number games
  • Learn — take a course, take up a musical instrument or another language
  • Experience something different — a play, museum, art gallery, concert
  • Undo your routine — take a different route home, break your morning routine
Meet, greet, connect

Just like mental stimulation, social stimulation may also help with brain function. And being social helps improve your mood, strengthen relationships and even reduce stress.

There are many options:

  • Face-to-face — with the check out clerk, someone getting on the same elevator, smile at someone
  • High and low tech — phone someone, use email or a social network
  • Do good — volunteer  or perform a random act of kindness
  • Connect by numbers — join a book club, hobby group, extend and accept invitations to social gatherings (even small ones)
Find a deeper strength

"Fighting internal and external ageism means taking action," explains Dr. Camerlain. "Be proactive about your physical and emotional health; don't worry about your chronological age. But you also have to persevere and fight for your rights to be treated fairly.

Her advice:

  • Never give up on yourself. If you do, then others will give up on you too.
  • Focus on your inner child, not the elder within. Play, laugh and learn like you did as a youngster.
  • Be aware of ageism — both your own and that of others. Stand up for yourself if you are the victim of either, and speak up on the behalf of others. For example, if you see ads showing older people as incompetent or slow; if you feel ignored by a customer service department.
Positive aging: make it personal
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