Wellness aging, conscious aging, elderhood, transpersonal gerontology, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, individuation, successful aging, retirement counseling,...ect.
Looks like we are beginning to put the last part of our lives under the microscope in true Western scientific style, which means there must be some money in it for the researchers and grant writers, but lets not pathologize our Senior Status, let's enjoy it.
Other cultures have always looked at elders as keepers of wisdom and tradition, and have revered them for their experience.
Today, I am in a mood to kick back hand enjoy my retirement a bit. Unfortunately, I do not have the finances just yet to kick back, and my 11 year old son and 5 year old daughter need a dad today, not a Senior Citizen, so I am one of those Baby Boomers who needs to commit effort to staying healthy and productive.
While the researchers sort out the research, I am going to take charge of my own wellness aging, and look for tools I can use today.
Luckily for us Baby Boomers there are folks out there like Michael Merzenich,Ph.D., who are discovering some very important things about the human brain, which is a very important part of my wellness aging.
I can work out my brain to keep its neuroplastic muscle strong, and I can work out my brain to keep its neurogenesis going strong.
Neuroplasticity is the term Merzenich and others use to describe my brains ability to constantly rewire itself based on what I am learning.
According to Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., co-authors of Brainfit for Life
those new connections can happen in minutes, and those new connections and circuits can be kept by the brain if they are used frequently enough. (So I do not have to pour in 15 lectures and then reach a tipping point where my brain makes a leap. It is doing new connections constantly if the learning involves novel material).
New circuits and new connections between neurons are very important in our later years to ward off alzheimers disease.
However the brain does not keep those connections and circuits unless they are used frequently. The brain actually pares unused circuits and neuronal connections, so I have to continually challenge my brain with some novel learning experience, as Merzenich, Evans, and Burghardt all note in their work.
What is a novel learning experience? The kind of learning I do when I learn a new language or learn a new instrument, or the kind of learning that happens when I use some of the currently available computerized brain fitness programs.
As a counselor, I cannot read another counseling book and encourage neuroplasticity though, since my brain knows how to do counseling already.
Neurogenesis is another key piece of the wellness aging puzzle. Neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons every day, which is great news for this 61 year old brain. I am delighted to have some new neurons coming in, and I will work hard to cement them into existing circuits to buttress those circuits, which requires some behaviors on my part including novel learning experiences.
Evans and Burghardt speak to the "pillars of brain fitness" which are the things we need to do to encourage neuroplasticity and neurogenesis at any age. Those pillars are physical exercise, nutrition with lots of omega 3 fatty acid, good sleep, stress management, and the above mentioned novel learning experience.
The first pillar of brain fitness is physical exercise, and your wellness aging physician is going to tell you to do this to take care of your heart.
We are going to do both. The good news is that the level of physical activity/exercise for wellness aging does not have to be at the level of expensive exercise club with expensive coach who wants you to fling around big barbells and get all sweaty.
If you walk around the block twice a day, add one more trip, and that is the requisite level of physical exercise to begin with. It is the breathing deeply that is important.
I want to suggest that you work up from activity to exercise. I work out with guys at my local YMCA who are 88 and are there every day, insulting and teasing the younger guys. (It is still nice to be called 'young man').
If you are looking for a model to follow, then let me suggest the Scott and Angie Tousignant home grown model for couples. If you click on the link, go about half-way down the page you are taken to, and you will meet 80 year olds Bill and Pat who follow the Tousignant routine to be in shape for traveling.
The next pillar of wellness aging is nutrition, which means lots of fruit and vegetables, and an end to processed foods.
Processed foods are full of high fructose corn syrup and appetite stimulants, and you will be amazed at how good you feel when you quit eating them.
The Brainfit for Life authors talk about the importance of including omega 3 fatty acid in your diet daily. It turns out that your neuronal membrane is mostly fatty acid, and if it is not replenished daily then those membranes get brittle and communication between them is garbled, leading to poor decisions.
The best source of omega 3 is fish, which means you risk mercury pollution these days, so perhaps you want an omega three fatty acid supplement which has been processed to clean out the mercury.
Stress management is a key piece of the wellness aging neuroplasticity and neurogenesis puzzle, as too much stress hormones too often will kill those new neurons before they get a chance to become part of your neural hardware.
For a highly recommended stress managment tool, look no further than HeartMath, which also impacts your brain, opening the higher perceptual centers for your novel learning experience or your computerized brain fitness program.
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