Winter is coming.
The first snow fell on brightly colored leaves this year. It surprised me because I hadn’t mentally prepared for winter to come, yet. This was my wakeup call to dig out hats and gloves and decide if we are going to get ski passes this year. It also triggered another wakeup call – a bigger, more important winter is coming someday. (No, it doesn’t involve white walkers.) The winter of our lives is coming in the form of old age, and I wonder if we are preparing for it?
While winter can be as beautiful as all the other seasons, people usually fear it because aging means pending death, possible sickness and pain, and lost independence. According to the CDC, there has been a major shift in the leading cause of death over the last century from infectious disease, to acute illness, and now to chronic disease and degenerative illness. They report that “Two out of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions.” Some of that is inevitable, but like Dr. Andrew Weil said at the recent International Council on Active Aging conference, the aging process can be separated from disease. Therefore, our goal shouldn’t be anti-aging, but anti-diseasing.
Whether you are like my parents and quickly approaching your winter, or like my children whose winter seems far off, there are things you can do now to prepare. Just keep in mind that preparing for seasonal winter is different than preparing for the winter of life. Because nobody is getting out of this life alive, the goal is not to survive until spring, but rather to enjoy our winter with a body that still functions and is relatively free from chronic disease.
I know it’s hard to think about the pending winter in the midst of our spring or summer years. When we are young, our bodies are flexible, functional, and disease free. I watch my children and see strong, vibrant lives preparing to bear good fruit, and it’s difficult to imagine that they won’t always be this healthy. Most of us only start to contemplate our exit plan from this earth when we approach our autumn. Like brightly colored leaves, we shine with confidence and life experience during this stage, but we also begin to notice the slightest hint of brittleness around the edges. The culmination of inactivity, poor diet, and bad habits tend to show up in this season.
Here are 6 ways we can start today to prepare for the pending winter of our lives. We don’t have to wait until we are near winter. The sooner we start, the better prepared we will be.
- Take a walk for 15 minutes after every meal to cut blood sugar spikes in half and protect against diabetes. I explain this concept further in the article titled Become a NEAT-er Person.
- Find a gentle joint mobility class like Kaiut Yoga to lubricate your joints and maintain your range of motion. My husband is going through Kaiut Yoga teacher training in Boulder, and I’ve seen firsthand the simple but effective way this type of yoga impacts the aging body.
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and spices (like turmeric) to flood your body with antioxidants and phytonutrients so your body can fight off disease. The potential for disease is always present, so fuel your body well for a chance at the best defense. Scientists are learning more and more about nutrigenomics which is the study of food’s ability to impact gene expression, including chronic disease.
- Reduce inflammation because it is the underlying culprit of many chronic diseases and joint pain. Pay attention to how your body feels after eating certain foods. Some of the common inflammatory foods are sugar, trans fat, vegetable oil, MSG, aspartame, and alcohol.
- Move your body for at least 1 minute every half hour throughout the day. Get up, walk, stretch, or fidget, especially if you work behind a desk. Long bouts of sedentariness have been linked to chronic disease and all-cause mortality.
- Find ways to flood your body with good hormones: laugh every day, move, and invest in others. Hormone balance is the lifeblood of vitality. Positivity, love, and low stress go a long way toward supporting healthy aging.
The pending winter of our lives does not have to mean pending disease. Instead, we can improve with time just like cheese, whiskey, and leftover chili. Winter is coming. Embrace it. Prepare for it. Welcome your winter with open arms and a warm heart.
About the Author
Stevyn Guinnip has a masters degree in kinesiology and is a veteran in the fitness industry. She has a wide range of experience including NIH research, personal training, corporate wellness, cardiac rehab, group fitness, and launching fitness programs in both the US and Australia. Stevyn believes that if you seek wellness, you will find freedom. She also believes in the importance of the integrated core muscles including the (often neglected) pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm which are impacted by good posture, breathing, and movement.