Growing Older, Staying Strong.
Diet and Exercise Key
The two most important keys to successful aging are diet and
exercise, says John Faulkner, PhD, senior researcher at the Muscle Mechanics
Laboratory in the Institute of Gerontology and professor of physiology and
biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"The most critical thing as we age is maintaining the
ability to move, and that means having a reasonable body weight," Faulkner
says. "Your metabolism continues to slow down steadily every decade. We
need less food today than we did 10 years ago."
In addition to eating a well-balanced diet, it's essential to
continue to exercise throughout life. "Find something that appeals to you,
because few people will continue to engage in exercise unless they enjoy
it," Faulkner says. "It's critical to understand that you will lose
muscle mass as you grow older. At age 80 people generally have about 50% to 60%
of the muscle mass they had when they were 30. If you work out regularly with
modest weights you can prevent some of that loss. Instead of losing 40% of your
muscle mass, you might only lose 30%." Gruman adds that working out with
small weights not only builds muscle mass but also helps fight osteoporosis and
strengthens muscles that preserve balance.
Mosqueda, too, emphasizes the importance of continuing
"Regular exercise maintains flexibility and functioning,
and helps prevent falls," she says. "It doesn't matter what age you
are. At any age you can exercise and increase your physical and social
well-being." She recommends a program that includes both aerobic exercise
to increase blood flow and a gentler exercise like tai chi to increase
flexibility and balance.
Adapt Gracefully to Change
"We find that people who age successfully and have a good
quality of life adapt well to changes," Mosqueda says. "If they can't
square dance any more, they try ballroom dancing. If they can't run marathons,
they shift to shorter runs. Instead of feeling 'there's nothing else I can do,'
they look for solutions."
When Appel traveled to Eastern Europe, she couldn't always keep
up with her group. "Just be sure to keep me in sight, and I'll arrive a few
minutes after you," she told them. When she came to a staircase with no
handrails and needed help, she asked for it. "It's important not to feel
that 'this is only happening to me,'" she says. "Keep in mind that
people of all ages have to deal with changes in their abilities. Find a
balance. Work to improve what you can do, and at the same time acknowledge your
Shifting Sense of What Matters
As we age, our sense of what's important changes. "Because
people aren't so tied down to the demands of daily living, they may have more
time to develop a rich spiritual life," says Gruman. "They may become
more deeply involved in their own religion or explore new spiritual
Appel says she believes this is related to shifting perceptions
of time. "As you reach your 70s and 80s you no longer sense time stretching
out in front of you indefinitely," she says. "For successful aging, we
need to let go of self-focused concerns from our younger years. Recently, as I
realize more deeply that time is short, I find I want to be as open and
forgiving as I possibly can be."