Keep Moving To Stay Young

“Some people drink from the fountain of youth, others merely gargle.”

The legend lives on. 

Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, likely offered the most popular account of the supposed miracle fountain, although there are other accounts throughout history and throughout the world.  Not surprisingly, none of the accounts have been supported by historical or archaeological evidence. 

The city of St. Augustine, Florida, is home to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where Juan Ponce de Leon was supposed to have landed, according to promotional literature.  For just $18, you, too, can tour the park and take a sip of the fabled rejuvenating water.  Many people still do. 

If only it were that easy. 

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This post is part informational, part inspirational.  You have likely heard all the information before, but good advice bears repeating.  You may have been inspired before, but since we all need all the inspiration we can get, I will offer you more.

We all know the importance of taking good care of our health for optimal aging.  So much of the basic foundation of healthy aging lies in our own hands. 

  • Healthy food in moderate amounts
  • Water in adequate amounts daily
  • Enough sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Social contact
  • Regular medical checkups, followed by following doctor’s orders.

You already know all this.  You already know how important each starred item above is.  Yet, most of us—myself included—long for an easier way.  An easy, cure-all, much like the Fountain of Youth.  Many of us try easy fixes, “magic” pills.

But there are no truly magic pills, just like there is no fountain of youth.

 Most of these “easy” ways don’t do much good for our long-term health, youthfulness and longevity.  The fundamentals listed above are among the best ways. 

I purposely left off two of the most important factors in taking care of one’s health, because I wanted to focus on them here.  Two more healthy habits that, when practiced faithfully, can make the difference between aging well, or not aging at all. 

Which, of course, can also mean the difference between life and death.

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I am 53 years old/53 years young, depending on how one looks at it.  I like to write, and I want to do more of it in my life, so I keep busy with creative writing and a few side gigs like this monthly post.  I enjoy it, it makes me feel good mentally and physically.  It is good for my brain.

My day job is that of a speech/language pathologist.  I have worked in the field for 25 years, with the last 21 working with adults.  My patients have various diagnoses, but among the most common are stroke, head injury, voice deficits, brain/throat cancer and Parkinson’s disease.  These diagnoses bring so much heartbreak to life, so much to work on in rehabilitation, often alongside physical and occupational therapy. 

I have the opportunity to meet many people in my work, many patients and their families and friends.  So many of these patients are profoundly inspirational to me; so many of them are truly resilient people.  Their rehabilitation process has made them more determined to live a healthy life, because any of the diagnoses that bring them to me can be experienced by someone who has taken good care of their health, as well as someone who hasn’t.

I am always fascinated by the patient who looks and acts a decade or two younger than they actually are.  Because my work involves communication, I typically don’t hesitate to engage them in a discussion about how they take such good care of themselves.

By and large, their answers fall within these two responses:

1:  I stay active.

2:  I do what I enjoy doing.

Number one translates into “I keep my body moving,” which is the essence of keeping the body fit.

Number two translates into: “I engage in activities that keep my brain moving,” which the essence of keeping the brain fit.

It can truly be that easy—and that hard.

Finding the motivation to engage in physically and cognitively stimulating activities can be the hardest part.  Getting started, getting up out of the chair or getting out of the funk can be the greatest challenge. 

But once you start moving the body and/or the brain, it is so much easier to keep it moving.  Many people—myself included—wait for motivation to strike us before we act.  In reality, motivation comes from doing, not waiting.  Once we get started, the energy starts to flow—both physically and mentally. 

It is a well-known proven fact that physical activity keeps the body healthy.  It is becoming more well-known that positive mental activity keeps the brain healthy.  There is an increasing amount of research coming out that suggests a link between depression with dementia later in life.  This may surprise some people, but to me, it makes perfect sense.  If the brain is not stimulated and worked in a positive manner, it faces a greater risk of illness later in life, just as the body faces a greater risk of illness if it is not positively stimulated.

In a bonus, buy-one-get-one-free kind of deal, sustained physical exercise has been proven—hands down—to fight and/or prevent depression.  Moving the body keeps the brain moving and healthy.  If the effects of exercise could be bottled up into a pill, many researchers have noted, it would fly off the shelves as the best-selling, safest, most natural medication of all times—not just for depression, but for good health overall.

There’s the magic pill. 

Plus, both physical and cognitive activities you enjoy sustain themselves:  if you enjoy them, the feel-good aspect keeps on going after you made the initial effort.  And if it is a really good match, you may have a hard time stopping.  Find a hobby you enjoy, spend time doing it, and don’t feel guilty about it.  You are worth it.

Finding activities you enjoy—both physical and cognitive—may take some time.  Give yourself that time.  If you don’t like running, take a walk.  If you don’t like biking, then take a yoga class.  The same is true for brain exercises.  Even activities that may seem purely for fun—I’ll use the example of jigsaw puzzles, because that is what I enjoy—keeps my brain working, too.  Reading is a never-fail activity.  Crossword puzzles keep our word-finding abilities sharp, which is a skill that declines with age, and often declines sharply with my stroke patients.

If you have the means, traveling is an excellent way to keep the brain wide open, and physical activity on vacation always seems less of an effort.

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We should all be so grateful for our health-care providers.  They are there when we need them, and they provide expert, loving care.  But if we keep our brains and bodies moving like we know we should, we can give those providers a break they so deserve by staying healthy, and needing their services less. 

Of course, those extra years you add on to your life will make up for fewer visits now in your younger years…