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What is Active Aging?

I was asked what active aging means a few days ago. It was a great question, though it took me by surprise, as I had made the erroneous assumption that everyone knew what I meant. Assuming didn’t work out, so I’ll share my definition.

photo shot into a ceiling mirror at Ripley's

I’m actually learning over backward to take this photo into a ceiling mirror at Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Hollywood. You are looking at me from a bird’s eye view. Active Aging includes flexibility.

Active Aging: Making frequent small choices that enable you to move as freely as possible throughout your world.

Say what?! Well, I could have said “Move a lot and exercise,” but it’s not really that. Besides, that sounds like one or two choices per day. The truth is that it is NOT so much the choice to go to an exercise class or do an activity that works up a sweat. It is the repeated small choices we make every day.

Pool at KOA in Santa PaulaI’ll give you an example that illustrates the “Use it or Lose it” principle. I was at an event this past weekend where we had access to a pool, which was at the bottom of a hill. After swimming, we had lunch at the top of the hill. It was very hot, so the 3-minute walk up and down the hill wasn’t fun. A ride was provided for those who didn’t want to walk. Nearly everyone took the ride, saying they didn’t like to walk uphill. That was a choice. Yet if we play this out, look what happens:

  • Chooses to ride due to dislike of walking once
  • Chooses to ride due to dislike of walking many more times that day
  • Walks 4,000 steps total in a day rather than the 7,000 that walking would have led to
  • Has to one day walk up a hill because no ride is available – discovers that it’s very difficult, and that the heart is pounding so much it’s scary
  • Vows to never walk up a hill again
  • Loses ability to walk up steep hills
  • Eventually loses ability to walk up short, not-so-steep hills
  • Opts out of activities that require much walking
  • Chooses only activities that are seated or can easily be accessed by car
  • World is now much smaller, as many activities are no longer considered
Tamrac Anvil Camera Bag

This is my new Anvil Camera Bag, which Tamrac sent me. Click on the photo to check out their full line of camera bags.

Many older people we know (and a few younger ones too, sadly) are no longer able to walk at all, due entirely to the many small choices they made over the years to NOT move. They didn’t use their legs, so they lost the ability to use their legs. They aged inactively.

What do you think might have happened if they had chosen the stairs instead of the elevator? Those were repeated, small choices. What if they had gone for a 10-minute walk around the block while waiting for their loved one to come out from an appointment or school?  What if they had gone in the pool with their kids instead of sitting on the chaise longue? Or stood up to change the TV channel instead of using the remote control? All small choices that lead to active aging.

Ziplining at KOA Santa Paula

About to go ziplining. Active Aging includes this, plus the ability to climb a tower ladder.

You don’t need to get sweaty and exhausted. You don’t need to climb a steep hill … today. You just need to make small, incremental choices every single day that lead you toward doing the things you want to do five, ten and twenty years from now. What you don’t use, you’ll lose. Once you’re in the habit of walking, you’ll find that sitting for long periods of time is actually physically uncomfortable. And you want that. You want to be more comfortable moving than not moving.

This is my plea to you – Make small choices
And this is my wish for you – Live a long, active, healthy, enjoyable life that ends abruptly, not slowly

by Alexandra Williams, MA

What are some of the small choices you make every day that lead you toward or away from activity? What do you want to be doing when you’re 65, 75, 85, 95?

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