Five surprising things that science tells us about how to age well

Aged Care April 3, 2019

Ageing well means different things to different people. To some, it’s about achieving the best physical health possible. To others, it means keeping a passion alive, or maintaining relationships with friends and family. For most Australians, an important part of ageing well is living independently at home as long as possible. Luckily, there’s flexible, affordable support to do just that. But what are some everyday changes that we can make to help boost wellbeing as we get older? We take a look at some of the lesser-known ways.

Get your creative juices flowing

Creativity later in life has been linked with a number of positive benefits. One study published in the journal of ageing studies looked at contributors to a senior art exhibition, ages ranging from 60-93. It found that creative activity contributed to successful ageing by fostering a sense of competence, purpose and growth in the participants. It also encouraged the development of problem-solving skills, motivation and a practical creativity that was seen to translate into the everyday lives of the artists. It’s not the only evidence that exists supporting the belief that creative endeavours can help to deal with the challenges of ageing.

Another great example comes out of Taiwan, one of Asia’s fastest ageing nations. Peishan Yang, a professor at National Taiwan University, presented the results of a landmark project at the 2016 National Center for Creative Aging Conference. The History Alive and Legacy Art Work programs have served 60,000 older adults since 2005. She reported that participants had lower rates of depression and loneliness. Higher morale, confidence to live with dignity and healthier family relationships were also reported.

Train your brain

Most of our neurons – brain cells that send electrical signals – are indeed in place by the time we are born. But a recent study has debunked a long-held belief that we stop producing neurons in adulthood, finding instead that elderly people produce as many brain cells as teenagers.

While the theory is still hotly debated, another small 2014 study from the Centre for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA demonstrated an improvement in memory function resulting from therapeutic programs. Nine out of ten participants displayed improvement three to six months into the program, which included a combination of dietary changes, brain stimulation, exercise, improved sleep and other methods that affect brain chemistry.

In truth, we are still learning about how we can best promote brain health. The best exercise regimen for one person might be different for another. When it comes to exercise, the resounding chorus from health professionals seems to be; do what you enjoy.

Eat more blueberries

A recent study from King’s College, London, found that eating 200g of blueberries every day for a month can lead to an improvement in blood vessel function and lower blood pressure in healthy people. Lead researcher Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos said of the results; “If the changes we saw in blood vessel function after eating blueberries every day could be sustained for a person’s whole life, it could reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 20%.” Additional studies have also suggested that blueberries and blueberry juice reduce DNA damage, which is a leading driver of ageing and cancer.

Get your groove on

A research study conducted by Queensland Ballet and QUT examined participants of ten Ballet for Seniors classes over three months. It found that participants of the study experienced a range of health benefits as a result of the class. Physical benefits like greater energy levels, flexibility and improved posture combined with a boost to emotional wellbeing as participants reported feeling a greater sense of togetherness and community, an improvement in mood and a greater sense of calm. Other studies in neuroscience have backed up the theory that hitting the dancefloor is great for older people.

As reported here by Science Daily, a study based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases had participants (at an average age of 68) take part in two forms of exercise over 18 months; dancing and endurance training. The results showed an increase in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory, learning and keeping balance. It’s also an area of ‘grey matter’ that typically declines with age. Of the two groups, the one that took part in dance classes were reported to experience the most profound effect. The reason for the difference? The mental challenge associated with learning new genres and routines. So while a jive around your living room sounds like fun, the best results may come from signing up to your local swing dance school.

Start pumping iron

Inactivity is a huge cause of muscle decline as we age. The good news is, resistance exercise can reverse much of this decline. While the idea of commencing a weight lifting regimen in our later years might seem extreme, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, it’s not necessarily the traditional body-building approach of ‘heavier the better’ that delivers the greatest benefit. As reported here by Huffpost, a recent study revealed that ‘light weight lifters’ grow just as strong as those lifting heavier weights. Stuart Phillips, senior author on the study and professor in the Department of Kinesiology recommends lifting “to the point of exhaustion” and disregarding whether the weights are heavy or light. Rather than weight, the study revealed that the secret to helping maintain muscle mass and building stronger bones was fatigue. Start small, and repeat the action until your muscles are tired. Results were similar for both experienced and novice athletes so regardless of whether you’ve ever set foot in a gym before, it’s never too late to get your hands on those barbels and start lifting!

Looking for some support to help you maintain vitality as you age? Visit mable.com.au and find a support worker who can help you find what works for you.

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