As we bring in the New Year it is often a time to reflect on the past and to look forward to changes we want or need to make. Today, we are all aware that regular stimulation for our minds, physical activity, a well balanced diet, and social contact has an enormous impact on our physical and psychological well being.
In my practice, I have observed that while many people are aware of the benefits of making these lifestyle changes they lack the motivation. I have heard many people express frustration at not being able to get up from a seated position, reach down to tie shoes, or fear that they will fall on the cobblestone streets. When I ask them please turn over on my massage table it seems to be a very difficult task. But this is not necessarily “normal”. We do not need to accept these difficulties as an inevitable part of aging. Unfortunately, a lot of people do. They consider aches and pains, lack of energy as normal part of aging. They don’t believe that exercises and stretching can substantially help to improve energy levels, flexibility, coordination and balance, and range of motion. Exercising and stretching help to avoid accidents and falls and keeps people independent as we age.
But there is this other group of people who know how important it is to stay active whether it is through yoga, walking, dancing or other activities yet when I talk to them about the importance of physical activity they often respond by saying “Oh Barbara, everything that you say is true, I know all these things and I don’t know why I am not doing them. ”
Let’s have a look where this lack of motivation could come from.
Change can appear difficult at any age because we often feel more comfortable staying inactive, and in our comfort zone. This may be attributed to differences in constitutional types – some people like to do exercise wherever and whenever they can, they are constantly active and moving, otherwise they just don’t feel good. But the majority of people are not like this and for them they have to find a way out of their “comfort zone”.
Very often a physical problem like aches and pains, morning stiffness, high blood pressure etc. may motivate people to initiate change. These messages come from the body like little alarms, signaling that a change is needed.
I also found out, that some people believe that physical inactivity is normal when they become older. After a long life of hard work they feel that they have the right to ‘just take it easy’ and of course they now deserve a break.
Having a belief that as we get older it is normal to be in pain and to have limited mobility can be dangerous in many ways. I tell people if they believe that cancer, diabetes etc. runs in the family or that aches and pains are normal from age 60 then it is like opening the door to these “guests” and saying “welcome, I have been waiting for you”. As you might know, all of our trillions of cells are constantly listening to our thoughts…. and our thoughts become manifested in our body.
Another reason for lack of motivation could be a hidden low-level depression. Someone who watches television all day, feels chronically fatigued and pays no attention to what is going on around them could easily be mildly depressed. To become silent, withdrawn, apathetic, anxious are common signs of this condition. Many cases of depression can be linked directly to social and personal problems. A person who feels useless, discarded, uncared for, or burdensome to his family will most likely be depressed and any kind of physical activity to improve health might seem an impossible task. .
But not only physical activity is necessary.
The same can be said for mental and emotional well being as we age. Recent research by Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor at UCLA SF, indicates that the human brain is able to continually adapt and rewire itself, even in old age. Through repetition and stimulation new pathways in the mind are developed and memory and brain function improves. It is simply a case of “use it or lose it”. As for emotional well being, physical, mental and social stimulation also fight depression. A new routine that includes social interaction and companionship is a wonderful anti-depressant. You are as young as you feel.
The good news for the aging population is that the positive effects of a new routine are realized quickly, the physical consequences of immobility can be easily reversed. I want to give you an example.
As I mentioned in the August issue of this magazine, this summer while I was in Germany, I attended a seminar on Geriatric Medicine. Because deterioration of health and becoming dependent often begins with inflexibility, stiffness and lack of activity, I was more than ever aware of the importance of motivating my clients to do something to avoid this path.
Soon after my return I had a client who stated a perfect example: He was basically healthy, mentally in good shape, but terribly stiff. He always shuffled his feet when he walked, I was afraid that he could fall at any moment. He felt weak in his legs, was very tired during the day and sleepless at night. Certainly his quality of life was diminished. He told me after my little inspiring speech about activities and exercises: ‘Yes, I know you are right. I just don’t have the motivation to do it.’
In that moment, I had the idea of organizing a health coach for him. Someone who can visit him a few times a week, walk with him, do some general and specific exercises, and assist with his diet. The results were incredible. The woman I found worked with him, according to my instructions, came to his house 3 times a week for 90 minutes. Within a few weeks he walked faster, his legs were stronger, his posture improved and because of his new found confidence it helped to conquer his fear of falling. His aches and pains subsided weekly with that program and a little support by natural remedies and massages. The best thing is, he has more energy and he sleeps better. He is happier, his overall quality of life has improved and he now looks forward to each session.
So why not start the New Year right?
I highly recommend that you – if – for some reason, you can not motivate yourself or your loved ones consider taking that “health coach” for a while until you become accustomed to the routine and you can continue on your own, because you don’t want to miss this new “better- feeling”.
I wish all of you a happy, healthy life
For more information about the Health Coach please contact me:
Barbara Rotthaler, German licensed Naturopath and Health Practitioner
01 (376) 766 1987