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Successful Aging: How to stay positive during these difficult times

Q. I am 80 years old and have become very much aware of my age during this pandemic. Although I am healthy, I know I am in the high-risk category simply because of age. With all of the bad news and underlying fear, how does one stay positive yet realistic? D.H.

A. Dear D.H.

In these unprecedented times, staying positive is indeed a challenge. Let’s start with the reality piece. Age indeed is a risk factor for older adults for two reasons: Immune systems are not as strong as we get older and chronic illness increases the probability of having a more severe case. We know that about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease; 68 percent have at least two. It’s not that older adults get the disease more frequently than other age groups; rather it’s that they have an increased risk of severity.

However, each of us is a case of one. The figures and percentages we know from print, television and social media are a snapshot of what is happening at the moment. It does not mean we are destined to be part of those numbers. We may never have total control over our health outcomes; however, we each can exercise some influence over our own well-being.

So let’s assume our role as influencers over our own physical and mental health which will only enhance a positive outlook. Here are some things we can do:

Take a break from the news: For a period of time, stop watching, reading or listening to news stories – and that includes social media. Surrounding ourselves with infection rate statistics, shortages of hospital supplies and heartbreaking stories is upsetting to anyone, regardless of age.

Focus on what you can control: We may not always be able to control our thoughts, feelings or even the action of others, but we are not without power. Consider making a list of everything within your control. That might include what you eat and wear each day or nightly routines. We can control our beliefs, values, what we know and even how we will respond under pressure.

Sit less and move more: While watching television, consider getting up during commercials and do something active such as emptying the dishwasher, throwing clothes in the laundry or taking out the trash. If you are binge watching your favorite show, move around after each episode.

Move your own way: Everyday tasks can include movement. Dance to your favorite music. With that same music take a brisk walk around the house or go up and down the stairs for 10-15 minutes. Try that two or three times a day for a workout. Then there is lawn work or bicycling. Explore some of the video exercise programs and participate in one. We know that moderate to intense physical activity can serve as a boost to the immune system.

Enjoy some comfort food: This is not health food. Comfort food provides feelings of warmth, joy and even frivolity. It might be meatloaf, mashed potatoes or grilled cheese and tomato soup. It also might be movies with some popcorn, TV shows, books, creating a scrapbook or even knitting. Remember that comfort food of mashed potatoes is not a steady diet. Still be aware of nutrition.

Rely on Mr. Rogers: Rogers often is quoted as saying to children, “When I was a boy, I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Read stories about those going beyond the call of duty – doctors and nurses coming out of retirement to help, our front-line health-care workers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, police officers shopping for older adults and more. We need to seek out those stories and remind ourselves of the many people who care and are making sacrifices to keep us well and safe.

Retaining or adopting a positive outlook requires engaging our mind and body in various ways. According to therapist Kevin Foss as quoted in Psychology Today, “the more we see, think and do that reflects peace, happiness and positivity, the more it can influence our mood and outlook.” He adds, “While the pandemic may put some things on hold, you should continue to take reasonable steps toward becoming your ideal self.” I agree.

Thank you D.H. for your good question. Remember, we are influencers over our own attitude, outlook and well-being that will help us stay positive during this time. Stay safe and well.


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