By Victor S. Sierpina
The best-known exponent of the power of positive thinking was Norman Vincent Peale, who lived well into his 90s.
His unique perspective on aging was that age in and of itself does not bring inevitable disability and disease.
In fact, he said the belief that aging creates disability and degeneration is a powerful factor in making them occur. In other words, our belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Indeed, we all know those who are vibrant and active, mentally and physically into their later years. There are even those blessed souls who make it still healthy to 100 years old or more.
What determines how well we live is dependent on many things — genes, nutrition, lifestyle choices and very often, activity levels.
While we think of fitness primarily in terms of strength or cardiovascular conditioning, an essential aspect of healthy aging is flexibility and with it, balance.
Now it may be hard to give credence to the Rev. Peale’s positive thinking when you feel your body getting creaky and sore.
A sign of this is when you bend over to tie your shoes and then you wonder what else you can do while you are down there.
Cold or damp weather, overactivity, even certain foods can make us stiff and sore, the old “weather joint” phenomena well known to arthritis sufferers.
However, on the whole, being inactive is more likely to cause long-term loss of flexibility and balance than regularly pushing ourselves a bit.
Many studies have shown that 60 percent of Americans get little or no physical activity daily.
This is a recipe for increased risk of musculo-skeletal problems, stiffness, falls, and injury as well as serious problems like cancer and heart disease.
The best strategy to healthy aging is to be physically active in middle age.
Walking is a great start. Just getting off the couch is the key.
What are some ways to postpone or reduce a progressive loss of physical function with age?
• Do some kind of daily flexibility practice;
• Give aquatherapy a try;
• Enroll in exercise classes for structure and social support or work with a trainer to develop a balanced fitness program;
• Eat an anti-inflammatory diet — http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/anti-inflammatory-diet-road-to-good-health; and
• Check out glucosamine sulfate (not glucosamine hydrochloride), along with other pain relievers like acetaminophen, Zyflamend, MSM, boswellia, ginger, and capsaicin to help keep you active.
A wonderful UTMB program and exercise resource in our community is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at 4700 Broadway.
Founded by Dr. Michelle Sierpina in 2002, the OLLI now has more than 1000 members 55 and over who take its college level, no-credit, no-test classes.
You can come with a buddy over 55 if you aren’t that young yet.
Call 409-764-5604 or check their website at www.utmb.edu/olli.
Among the programs offered weekly is a free functional fitness program available even to nonmembers.
OLLI members can enroll in the active practices of Tai Chi, yoga (including chair yoga), Zumba, Pilates and water aerobics.
OLLI also offers total body fitness, Tae Kwon Do, and ballroom dancing. All of these practices improve flexibility and balance.
I have patients in their 80s who can still touch their toes as a result of their engagement in these programs. Their fall risks are reduced as well.
So if you want to live long and well, stay flexible in body, mind, and spirit by trying at least one of the suggestions above.
The main thing is to keep moving. Just do it. It is never too late to improve your health.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.