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​Mindful Aging: What It Is And Why You Should Be Doing It

Prevention logo Prevention 7/28/2017 Cassie Shortsleeve

© Provided by Rodale Inc. Mindfulness has infused itself into just about every nook and cranny of the wellness space. You can eat mindfully, breathe mindfully, and exercise mindfully. But did you know that you can also age mindfully?

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to ease feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Similarly, adopting a mindful POV about aging will help you live an authentic, joyful life, so you can make the most of your later years, says Andrea Brandt, PhD, author of the forthcoming book Mindful Aging: Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose, and Joy.

“When you age mindfully, you are fully aware and accepting of the challenges that come with the aging process, but you're also aware of—and seizing—the opportunities that come with being blessed with what I call your ‘longevity bonus,’” explains Brandt. And you don't need to wait until your 70s or 80s to get started: By making some changes right now, no matter your age, you'll be better equipped to thrive down the line. Start with these five simple steps.

Instead of fearing the realities of aging, accept them.

© PHOTOALTO/ERIC AUDRAS/GETTY IMAGES Growing older comes with some unpleasant truths. “People you love will die, and you will die someday, too,” says Brandt. “No amount of ruminating will change that.” Yet fear of the unknown and of death often keeps people from aging mindfully. “If you're preoccupied with what comes next, you can't enjoy the present moment," she says. Instead of obsessing about something you can't control (like being mortal), make peace with it and shift your focus to what is controllable—specifically, what to do with your remaining time on this planet. (Grief can overtake your life. Here are 3 alternative therapies that can help heal your grief.)

If your anxious mind is racing so much that you can only concentrate on the downsides of aging, try an app like Calm. It features breathing exercises, as well as seven-day "meditation journeys," which may help you get a handle on your nerves.

Learn to let go.

We all cling to things—bad memories, frenemies we really don’t benefit from having in our lives, even too much stuff lying around the house. “To make room for new experiences, you have to let go of the emotional weight of old ones that don't help you anymore,” says Brandt.

Whether you desperately need to declutter or are feeling guilty about ditching an old friend who no longer brings you joy, start the letting go process by acknowledging that at one time the person, place, or thing in question did serve you, but now it’s time to move on. Better yet, write that all down: Research finds that expressive writing—and coming to terms with your emotions via pen and paper—can be therapeutic.

Create a vision for the rest of your life.

Taking full advantage of your time starts with knowing yourself well enough to figure out how to spend the remainder of your life, says Brandt. To find out what you truly love, think about what your perfect life would look like if you didn’t have obstacles such as financial constraints or work or family obligations in your way. Would you travel (like to these ultimate bucket list locations), finally perfect your cooking skills, or pick up and relocate?

While no one is saying you ought to abandon all your responsibilities, it may be time to rejigger some things in order to get closer to your dreams. Start small: If your vision is to travel, but money is an obstacle, you might consider renting out your home on Airbnb while you're away or picking up a few extra shifts at work.

Remember to truly focus on your own wants—even if they don't always line up with what society has in mind. Just because your mother would never live abroad or your friend wouldn't dream of changing careers after 50 doesn't mean it wouldn't suit you. "You can't age mindfully when you're afraid of how people will react to your choices," says Brandt.

Respect your body.

“When you age mindfully, you respect the physical changes the aging process brings,” Brandt says. Sure, resisting the urge to curse your crow's feet is part of that, but remaining active is really the key. Exercise is one of the best ways to tune into yourself (and boost your brain power) as you grow older.

Make staying healthy and feeling strong your goal. Even if you can’t run marathons anymore, try jogging or a brand-new activity like tap dancing or swim aerobics. (Train for a 5K with this 6-week program.) Whatever you choose, you’ll fire up feel-good endorphins and learn to appreciate that your body—in this very moment—is still capable of more than you thought. “When you have energy and strength, you can do a lot more and will likely add years to your life, too,” says Brandt.

Be creative.

The same ingredients needed for mindfulness—an in-the-moment attitude and an open mindset—are needed for creative pursuits, such as painting a picture, writing poetry, or filming a movie starring your grandkids. These activities keep you grounded in the here and now, but they also outlast you, says Brandt, since you're creating something you may choose to leave behind for others.

Bonus: A small study in the journal PLOS One found that adults between the ages of 62 and 70 who took a painting class had significantly more brain benefits such as increased psychological resilience—the ability to adapt to life’s hardships—than those who simply looked at art.

To prevent heart disease…: <p><strong>Try:</strong> Cardiovascular workouts, 3 to 4 times a week</p><p>Less than 1% of American women between the ages of 20 and 39 suffer from coronary heart disease, according to a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. However, among 40- to 59-year-olds, that number increases nearly 10-fold, to 5.6%. So how can you stay healthy?</p><p>The word "cardio" is short for "cardiovascular," so many people know that this kind of heart-pumping exercise will keep the heart muscle strong, Perkins says. (<a href="http://www.prevention.com/tags/running">Running</a>, <a href="http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/spinning-classes-and-shannon-miller">spinning</a>, dancing, rowing, and swimming all count!) However, if you really want your <a href="http://www.prevention.com/tags/heart-health">heart health</a> to benefit from your cardio workouts, you need to exercise at 80% of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. (On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being as hard as you can push yourself, you should be around an 8.)</p><p>So, if you're barely breaking a sweat while walking or taking it easy during your favorite Zumba class, it's time to pick up your pace and increase your effort, Perkins says. "Cardio workouts should feel effortful—like you could do it forever but wouldn't want to." (For more ways to keep your most vital organ in prime condition, don't miss these <a href="http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/lower-your-risk-of-heart-disease-in-28-days">28 ways to get a healthier heart</a>.)</p> Over 40? You'll Want To Do These 5 Exercises Every Week.
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