Stay younger by not giving in to old age

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 March, 2015, 6:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 March, 2015, 6:13am

One in eight Hong Kong people is aged 65 or above, according to Polytechnic University. The World Health Organisation predicts that, by 2050, Hong Kong will rank fifth in the world among cities with the highest ratio of older adults, projecting that 40 per cent of the population will be 65 or above.

But if you assume that ageing means automatically growing infirm and doddery, you may well be erring towards pessimism, which is seriously likely to make you feel old.

Age, experts say, really is just a number - all or partly in the mind. You can remain vigorous right up until close to the end of your life if you take the right measures.

Here are 10 tips on how to keep a spring in your step and beat your biological age.

1. Spiritual stimulation

Holistic health expert Sarah Yip advises meditation. "People who meditate forgive others easily and always look younger than their age because they have discovered the ageless soul within," she says.

In the same vein, Yip advocates laughing, which keeps you childlike and creative. Try looking up baby animals on a video channel, jump on a trampoline or have a tickle fight with your partner, she suggests. She also recommends chanting and singing.

2. Follow your heart

Do what you love, Yip says. "In face reading, we say you have the face you deserve by age 30. The fastest way to look old is to do a job you hate, stay in an unhappy relationship and ignore your heart," she says.

"The fastest way to recover your looks is to regain your love of life. Choose a lifestyle that gives you energy and inspiration. Take risks. Express your feelings. Travel. Keep learning. Drink more water. Never give up.

"Cultivate joy inside and it will shine from your eyes for all to see."

3. Hop on your bike

Research published by King's College London shows that another good way to stay feeling young is to get on your bicycle. By exercising, you do what your body wants to do, allowing it to age optimally.

"So it is not ageing itself that brings about poor function and frailty, but the fact that people have stopped exercising and are no longer active," says Professor Stephen Harridge of King's College in London.

The cyclists his team enlisted underwent two days of laboratory testing, which measured vital functions. The study showed that in the test subjects, the impact of ageing was far from obvious, as people of different ages had similar levels of function.

In a test gauging the time taken to stand from a chair, walk three metres, turn, and sit back down, even the oldest cyclists proved well within the range of healthy young adults.

4. Upend assumptions

Change your outlook, advises life coach Rik Schnabel, an Australian expert in "brain untraining". "Our mindset pre-frames our thinking, which, of course, determines our behaviour," he says.

People assume they will lose muscle tone after 60. "And surprise, surprise - they do." Because of the mere suggestion, they just stop exercising and moving, which means that muscle tone will definitely diminish, he says.

He adds that decay conforms to our beliefs, and since we hate being wrong, if we believe something is true, we will do whatever we can to ensure we are right, even if that line of thinking ages us, he says.

5. Programme the chatterbox

Be aware of what you are saying to yourself. Known as "self-talk", your internal monologue is critical to your well-being, says social emotional intelligence coach Gai O'Dwyer.

What we say to ourselves programmes our unconscious mind - and our body follows, she says. For example, if you say: "I am old and weak", that's how you'll become, with slumped posture. However, if you say, "I am older, wiser and stronger than this time last year", your physiology and tonality change for the better.

Fifty-five per cent of what you say about yourself and how you are perceived by others is in your physiology, she says.

6. Positive spin

The statement suggested in the previous tip is an example of reframing, O'Dwyer says, adding that she urges her clients to do this automatically when someone says something that discourages growth, such as: "Can you believe another year has gone by? It's all downhill from here."

In that case, a great reframe would be: "I am so excited to begin another year - grateful for all I have learned up until now and excited to see where I can continue to improve and grow," O'Dwyer suggests.

7. Track your emotions

Start developing awareness of strong emotions because a negative mindset instantly causes a loss of 50 per cent of the body's muscle strength, O'Dwyer says. Worse, it narrows your vision both physically and mentally, she says.

So, stop and take a look at how you are reacting and responding. Once you take charge of your emotions, you will start feeling better, release much better chemicals, and they, in turn, keep your body relaxed and more youthful.

8. Image rethink

Ageing never changes, just the meaning that we attach to it, O'Dwyer continues. If you see, feel, hear and think of ageing as a journey of self-discovery, it will be. She advises visualising and generally perceiving ageing in just that way.

Visualisation helps you create the meaning you give to an event. "I hear myself saying how good it is to be at peace with my life as each year rolls on. I think how incredible it is to have the gift of life," she says.

9. Expand horizons

People who feel young have a purpose in life: they set themselves challenges and goals - big and small - and follow through, says retirement analyst Jill Weeks.

Whether you pursue a degree or a community course, keep your brain active and challenge matters. Never stop learning.

Maintain a curious outlook, Weeks says, adding that your activity should be varied because the cliché that variety is the spice of life is also true. Avoid retiring in the literal sense. The happiest oldies Weeks knows jump out of planes, devise products to sell online, mentor businesses, help write CVs, and volunteer on large farms.

10. Get down with the kids

The last way to remain feeling young is to stay connected with children - a tactic endorsed by Canadian psychologist Lea Ann Mallett. Mallett says she was fortunate to have her first child at 42 and her second when almost 44.

"Having young kids forces me to stay young," she says. "I am active with them at the gym, swim with them, coach my son's soccer team and truly have to be energetic the entire time I am with them. People say I look at least 10 years younger than my age. Children are the secret to a happy life and to staying young."

If having children is not your style, volunteer at a boys' club or a girls' club or a sports team. Many sports opportunities require little experience and include only light physical activity, she says, adding that, as a soccer coach, she has no real soccer knowledge - "just enthusiasm and a love of kids". Another volunteering angle she suggests is joining a children's literacy programme.