Let’s face facts: we are living longer. According to World Bank data, our life expectancy in the 1980s was around 62.5. Today, the average Filipino can expect to live up to 68.5 years of age, a jump of six years in a span of three decades (as of 2017). This may be due to a combination of many factors—advances in sciences, a trend towards healthy eating, seniors feeling empowered to do more—but the fact remains, we will have a longer life than those who came before us.
It begs an important question and consideration: What will the quality of that life be?
Here are a few things to consider while mulling over the possibilities:
Consult your doctor, and have regular checkups
If this was something you avoided in your younger years, this is now non-negotiable. Aside from knowing what conditions and possible ailments you may have, your doctor—hopefully someone you already consider a friend—will be well informed of your personal and family history, and know your activity and metabolism levels and what medications you are taking, among other data.
That means realizing that, perhaps, as a sedentary person for almost 20 years, signing up for a marathon may not be the best idea. Or, hearing that gym rat groaning during his bench press attempt does not mean that you have to lift heavy, as well. You should know better, be wiser, and act accordingly.
Eat healthy—you know what that means
A simple rule of thumb: everything in moderation. I guarantee this to be the safest rule you can follow, without having to memorize which raw food to balance with which “allowed” carbohydrate. (As a general rule, I am very uncomfortable with diets that ask you to eliminate an entire food group. They all have their different purposes and functions, and if you don’t believe me, look up “fat soluble vitamins” to confirm that I am not pulling your leg.)
As for this and diet, I am not a nutritionist, so I cannot give advice on anything outside my area of competence. But I would like to reiterate that having a well-balanced meal, with portions in moderation, is the easiest thing to remember and do, with the added bonus of never feeling deprived of anything (which usually triggers binge eating).
Strength, cardio, flexibility training—do them all
As someone older, it is vital that you allocate time for the different areas where you can develop your fitness levels. Strength training can help in matters like bone density and muscle atrophy. Cardiovascular activities are great for building stamina and for overall health. Flexibility training gives you the assurance that you can bend, reach, and squat without sudden jolts of pain or muscle aches. Each of these areas—just like the aforementioned balanced diet—has its contribution to a picture of overall healthfulness, so make sure to spend time on these areas.
Relating to the first point of seeing your doctor, this is where her or his advice may prove beneficial. If your doctor knows you are experiencing back pain, she or he may suggest modifications, or even forbid certain exercises or activities. You must learn to see that engaging in physical training as an older adult requires you to see how other areas of your life can affect such training, and how exercising can also affect these areas. This is no longer the time for brash decisions and behavior—you have the digits, you should be proactive.
The tech is here—use it
Whether it is a step tracker, a fitness app, a better shoe, or meals prepared by your nutritionist, take advantage of what we now collectively know in the sciences, in technology applications that make things a little easier to do, and especially in gathering information about fitness trends, crazy-sounding diets, and other woolly concerns. The information gateway is there, something that those who came before us never had. It is incumbent on us to realize what real science is and how to be critical of unfounded and mostly incredible claims, and to use these skills in discernment to help us in our fitness journey.
Above all, enjoy the journey
You’ve worked hard, you have lived longer than some of your peers, you have prepared your nest egg. It is time to do the proverbial smelling of the roses: take pleasure in the journey. As someone who has matured not just chronologically but also mentally, realize that the destination isn’t fun if the way there was dreary.
Be open to many new experiences, and expand your mind on what “physical training” can be as an older adult. It does not automatically mean signing up for expensive club memberships. What if you have always wanted to start engaging your “runner” spirit? You can begin by brisk walking as a means to prepare you. Playing with your grand kids can be physically demanding, and a great way to keep your roots and bonds. If you’ve always thought of yourself as a great dancer, this is the time to let loose and be free to explore.
The popular saying goes, “Age is just a number.” I can’t agree more. Numbers by themselves have no meaning to us as vibrant humans. It is the value and meaning that we attach to age that give us purpose, direction, and clarity. We can choose to be constricted by what society tells us how older adults should comport themselves. Or we can see this as an opportunity to open another chapter in the fascinating book of our life.
So go for it. Run, skip, and hike your way to a fitter life and a healthier you!
Illustration by Paul Fabila
Discover more of the whole new perspective to staying healthy in Asian Dragon Magazine’s April-May 2017 issue, available for download on Magzter.