Live--and age--with purpose

Does it feel like life is zooming by? Instead of focusing on living longer, let’s take a closer look at living purposefully. Research shows that engaging purposefully as one ages can elongate one’s life and may lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Purpose is a preventive health measure!

For insight, four 60+ folks shared their experiences. Joanne Dallaire, 68, Shadowhawk Woman, Wolf Clan, Omushkego, is an elder and traditional counsellor. Ron Cameron-Lewis, 74, is a lifelong dramaturge, professor of performance, and writer. Fredelle Brief, 76, has worked as a social worker, teacher, facilitator, and peace activist. Michael Brecher, 94, is a political science professor. Here’s how they live purposefully every day.

Look for the positives

What do people love about getting older? “It is daunting and exciting, both,” says Dallaire, “this interesting phase of life.” Instead of seeing life now by months or years, she views it in “decades and milestones.”

Feeling grateful for more time was what Cameron-Lewis emphasizes: “With each passing year, I am thankful.” Brief points out, “I love the perspective of my age.” And for Brecher, it is the love of and pride in his three children—watching them flourish and succeed.

Make your own decisions

“As of my sixties,” explains Dallaire, “I started to focus on myself. Just myself. Enough about everyone else!” She adds, “Aging has brought with it freedom.” Freedom about making choices on one’s own terms. “I really trust myself—I can get myself through anything.”

Be curious

Brief feels that her “sense of wonder and curiosity” have supported aging well. “All my life,” she explains, “I have been fortunate to never suffer from boredom. I can wait for a half-hour for a streetcar and watch people moving up and down the street, see the different shades of green, watch the changes in light, look for birds, and on and on, and if there are people waiting with me, I will chat with them.”

Stay busy

“I don’t have time to look forward to getting older,” reports Cameron-Lewis. “I’m still so active. I haven’t stopped to think about what’s ahead because I keep getting such interesting new opportunities; I embrace each one that comes along.”

Adopt healthy practices

“I am as active as I can be,” says Dallaire, “eat all the correct foods, drink lots of water, and splurge on what keeps me mobile.”

Brecher’s two non-negotiables are continued academic teaching and research and a daily physical exercise regimen that includes 90 minutes of working out in the gym and an hourlong afternoon walk.

Functional Fitness

Have you heard of functional fitness? It refers to exercises that mimic movements in the exerciser’s everyday life: squatting to pick something up, twisting and reaching under load, lifting something overhead away from the centerline of your body, and so on. And yes, it may be key to aging gracefully. Studies have shown that increasing physical activity has insular effects against not only cardiovascular disease and physical ineptitude, but also cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. So with this in mind, why wouldn’t you?

The functional workout

Check out these three everyday movements that will keep you long, strong, and bendy.

Assisted Deep Squat

3 sets of 10 repetitions

Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, lats

  • Find a solid object to hold onto that won’t move, such as a stop sign pole, a bike rack, or the back of a couch. Stand roughly three-quarters of your arm’s-length away, with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and toes turned out at 45 degrees.
  • While maintaining as tall a posture as possible through your neck and spine (chin neutral) let your hips sink straight down as close to the ground as possible, ensuring that your knees track outward, toward your toes, and that your heels remain glued to the floor.
  • When you reach the bottom of your squat, take a deep inhale, and then push through your heels to stand back up to starting position, ensuring that your knees continue to track over your toes until you’re standing fully.

Assisted Single-Leg, Straight-Leg Deadlift, with a One-Arm Row

3 sets of 10 repetitions 

Muscles targeted: hamstring, core, rhomboids, glutes, biceps

  • Find a solid object to hold onto at about waist height that won’t move, such as a stop sign pole, a bike rack, or the back of a couch. Stand roughly three-quarters of your arm’s length away, and hold on with your left hand.
  • With your weight in your right heel and toes facing straight forward, imagine that your body (from the back of your head to your left heel) is nailed to a board, and slowly hinge your upper body forward like a see-saw, reaching your right hand toward the floor.
  • Once you find the end range of the tension in the back of your leg (hopefully with at least your fingertips touching the floor) take a deep inhale, and then exhale and raise to starting position.

Good Morning Rows

3 sets of 10 repetitions

Muscles targeted: hamstrings, rhomboids, glutes, traps

  • Begin with a weight in your hands (a full laundry basket will do!), feet hip-width apart, maintaining a neutral chin and a flat back throughout the entire exercise.
  • Hinge forward at the hips and allow your arms and the laundry basket to freely float forward underneath you, with minimal knee bend, until the tension in your legs and maybe lower back don’t allow you to bend any further down.
  • Take a deep exhale as you pull the laundry basket in toward your belly button, being careful not to shrug your shoulders. Allow the basket to go back down and inhale. Exhale and return to starting position by pushing your hips forward and pulling your shoulder blades down.

As with all exercise, check with your healthcare provider before trying something new.

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Article copyright 2020 by Alive Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Used with permission.