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Concerned about the physical changes caused by aging? Try this.


I am having difficulty adjusting to the physical changes in my body as I age. The changes are not life-threatening or debilitating but nonetheless frustrating. I now walk instead of run. I play nine holes of golf rather than 18. If I do the latter, I am exhausted. To the best of my knowledge, I am healthy. Any suggestions on ways to cope with such changes? J.S


Long-term runners are at risk from injuries due to overuse causing damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments or bones. “The most common cause is the sudden increase in the intensity and frequency of exercise,” according to Bon Secours, a sports medicine online publication. Although there is strong evidence of the benefits of walking, it can easily feel like a letdown for a runner. There is a saying among runners, “There is only one thing worse than running, it’s not running.” As a former long-term and modest runner, I can relate to this.


Then there is the energy issue. The RUSH University Medical Center reminds us that energy often declines because of normal age-related changes. Genes and environment are contributing factors to changes in cells that cause aging muscles to lose mass and strength and become less flexible. So strenuous activities become more tiring.


The loss of strength that accompanies aging is progressive. After age 40, we can lose one to two percent of lean body tissue per year, which can translate to a one and a half to five percent decrease in strength per year. One of the most important causes is the reduced level of physical activity.


An approach to dealing with such changes is to experience the powerful human emotion of gratitude. It’s acknowledging that there is goodness in your life and that others or a higher power helped you achieve that goodness. It is a state of being thankful.


Gratitude can affect body chemistry, making us feel good by releasing two “feel-good” hormones, dopamine and serotonin. Both contribute to feelings of pleasure, happiness and overall well-being while also positively affecting mood, willpower and motivation.


Gratitude also is considered good medicine, according to UC Davis Health Medical Center. It is related to lower levels of stress hormones and is associated with higher levels of good cholesterol and lower levels of bad cholesterol.


What is less well-known is that the regular practice of gratitude strengthens neural pathways. In time, this practice trains our brain to focus on what’s going well versus what’s not going so well, leading to positive outcomes both mental and physical.


Robert Emmons, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at UC Davis, studied more than one thousand people ages eight to 80 who consistently practiced gratitude. Study participants had stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, slept longer and were less bothered with aches and pains. Furthermore, they had higher levels of positive emotions, were more alert, alive and awake, with more joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness. Emmons also noted that gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression.

So how does this fit in with changes from running to walking and playing 18 holes of golf to nine? Consider taking a brief time out and just reflect. Perhaps the first difficult admission is that we all are aging, at different life stages and at different rates. In the later years, the changes can seem rapid, although in reality, such changes are gradual. It’s just that age seems to creep up on us when no one is looking.


Next, try the gratitude path. Here are some things to think about. What is working well in your life? Consider your health, relationships, feelings of security and safety, having opportunity, seeing the ocean, the sunrises and sunsets. Think about your children, grandchildren and friends or your valued contributions to the community. Is it the love you give and receive?


Some find it helpful to write a gratitude journal. That might include writing about a relationship that helped you, an opportunity you have today, something great that happened to you or what you saw yesterday. This is a grounding exercise that gives one perspective and provides a specific opportunity and commitment for reflection. In many ways, gratitude is a form of mindfulness that enables us to be present with the feelings and sensations of the goodness in our life.


Something else to be grateful for? November is National Gratitude Month.


J.S., Thank you for your good question. Enjoy your walks, your nine holes of golf and embrace all that is good around you. And know that kindness is everything.


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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