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Archive for June, 2011

The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Be Positive!

Posted by telos on June 30, 2011

The forecast is Positive!

For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. My subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail and suggested some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. This month’s habit for discussion is “Be Positive”.

Kicking yourself up the assets

Taking an ‘asset-based’ or positive approach to life has been a cardinal focus in the growing field of Positive Psychology. This research has demonstrated time and again that viewing life in a positive way is a far cry from the shallow philosophy espoused by Stuart Smalley, late of Saturday Night Live ”I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

As long ago as the 1980’s, educational research out of Stanford analyzing teaching performance reported that an approach focusing and building on a teacher’s ‘assets’ (i.e. their strengths, and what they did well) promoted high quality learning, while an approach focusing on a teacher’s ‘deficits’ (i.e. their weakness, and correcting what they were doing ‘wrong’) was far less effective. This ‘deficit-based’ approach however is still out there not only in education, but also in health, wellness and even Successful Aging!

Back in 2000 when I was an assistant professor at Arizona State University, I authored a book chapter in a major publication called “The Handbook of Health Psychology”. The title of the chapter was “Effects of physical activity on physical and psychological health:  Implications for exercise adherence and psychophysiological mechanisms” (A pretty long and involved title I admit, but then this was a pretty long and involved book – I was actually Chapter 38 out of 51!). The reason I bring this up here is that in my research for writing this chapter I was struck by the fact that almost everything I found on ‘psychological health’ in the scientific literature was about ‘getting less bad’.

Some 10 years later I am still seeing and reading much the same thing. The rationale(s) for setting and achieving wellness goals such as ‘getting active’, ‘getting fit’, or ‘eating healthy’ are still too often stated in terms of either reducing your actual bad stuff (e.g. losing weight) or on reducing your risk of bad stuff (e.g. risk of dying). With just a moment’s thought you could probably come up with your own list of the usual ‘bad stuff’ culprits: obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, stress, depression, anxiety, risk of a heart attack, risk of a stroke, etc.

I suspect this is a consequence of our long acquaintance with the ‘Medical Model’ of health – uniquely designed to kick in and fix the ‘bad stuff’, but with no designs at all on improving the ’good stuff’. The result of this is that we tend to view our wellbeing more in terms of how bad we aren’t rather than how good we are. When we try to improve our wellness behaviors we tend to focus more on overcoming obstacles rather than achieving goals, to focus on what we are not ‘going to get’ rather on what we will ‘be getting’.

One of the best known hypotheses in the field of Successful Aging is “The Compression of Morbidity”. This refers to the idea that the period of sickness (morbidity) at the end of life may be reduced (compressed) by adopting healthier lifestyles. This hypothesis has received much attention in the field of gerontology, and as a professor I have spoken about, and referred to it myself on many occasions. With my ‘Thinking differently’ hat on however, I see that, although this hypothesis was clearly aimed at doing good, it actually represented the ’getting less bad’ approach. Not much asset-kicking going on here! There is an obvious dichotomy between “Successful Aging” – a positive, asset-based concept, and “The Compression of Morbidity” a negative, deficit-based concept. So reframing this from a ‘Be Positive’ perspective, instead of “Compression” – why not “Expansion”? Instead of “Morbidity” – why not “Mobility”? And so we have “The Expansion of Mobility”. In other words ‘being better, longer’ instead of ‘being worse, shorter’.  Think about it.

What I have learned over the years both as a scientist and Intrinsic Coach® is that focusing on the positive aspects of pursuing an active lifestyle will bring you a host of positive benefits – you’ll look better and feel better about your self and your life, be more alert, have more energy, clearer thinking, better quality of life, better sleep, more independence.

And there’s more ….!

That old clichéd differentiation of people who either view ’the glass half empty or the glass half full’ reveals a pathway to some major (and positive!) consequences. You can learn to see the glass as ‘half full’ – you can learn to be optimistic! Check out Learned Optimism a landmark book by Dr. Martin Seligman, acknowledged as the founder of “Positive Psychology. The book is a decade old now but still relevant.

So as you think about the situations and goals in your life – what assets are kicking up for you?

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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Get Sleep!

Posted by telos on June 3, 2011

For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. My subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail, offering some avenues and options for more successfully including them in your lifestyle. This month’s habit for discussion is “Get Sleep”.

Catching some zzzzz’s

We all know that feeling of not being able to sleep. You toss and turn, mind racing, just lying there going over and over the day – and what about tomorrow?? Will you ever get to sleep? It seems like something you can’t avoid after a busy, stressful day.

However, for those of us that experience these kind of nights, there is good news! You  really CAN do something to catch more zzzzz’s! These are easy to learn habits that research has shown will improve sleep and sleep quality, a condition known as ‘sleep hygiene’.

Good habits for good sleep

  • Be active: This is the primary foundation of good sleep, as long as your physical activity and/or exercise is appropriate for you and for your lifestyle. Exercising at too high an intensity, or too late in the day can disrupt sleep and leave you feeling fatigued and listless in the days following. For a basic guide to increasing the activity in your life, see my ‘Stay Active!” post @ For optimum ‘sleep impact’ finish your activity at least 3 hours before bedtime since exercising any later is likely to have a wakening effect!

Other sleep inducing habits include …

  • Develop sleep rituals: Give your body cues that it is time to slow down and sleep. Listen to relaxing music, read something soothing for 15 minutes, have a cup of caffeine-free tea, try relaxation exercises.
  • Put your brain in neutral: Performing brain-stimulating activities shortly before bedtime can keep you awake, so save things like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games or family problem-solving for earlier in the day.
  • Keep the lights low: Exposure to bright lights before bedtime send ‘wake up’ signals to the body at exactly the wrong time!
  • Create a ‘sleep-friendly’ atmosphere: Make it cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions.
  • Seek whole body comfort: Buy a quality mattress and pillows. This one purchase will contribute to your sleep hygiene for up to a decade!
  • Eat late, early: Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. This allows your body and digestive system to settle down by the time you are trying to do the same. Vocal gymnastics by your stomach does nothing for sleep quality!
  • Establish regular bed and wake up times: The more of a routine you develop the better the sleep pattern. Don’t forget the weekends.
  • Keep it to “40 winks”: Although a ‘power nap” (that’s ’40 winks’ for all you non-Brits – see can be very effective for energy replacement, longer daytime naps can disrupt your nightly sleep pattern.
  • Be stimulant free, nightly: Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol products all contain ingredients that, when ingested close to bedtime, can keep you awake

Finally, if after all this, you still have problems with sleeping – or with staying awake/alert during the day, you should also consult your physician. Be sure to tell him/her if you have already tried these tips and for how long.

Based on information from the National Sleep Foundation @

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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Stay Active!

Posted by telos on June 1, 2011

 For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. Subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail and suggested some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. This habit for discussion in this post is “Stay Active”.

High Energy Users!

Be a high(er) energy user not a low(er) energy user

A huge amount of research has shown that when we become regularly active – even just a little more active – not only do we feel better and have more energy, but we can also improve the symptoms and outcomes of even serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and stroke. Being regularly active can also help ease tension, reduce stress and improve overall quality of life.

So far sounds good! But what does ‘being active’ actually mean? Working out? Playing sport? Jogging? Does walking my dog count for me or just for my dog? These are all important questions that most of us would like the answer to, and that researchers have been investigating for many years. How much is enough? That is the $64,000 question. The good news is that we now have an answer, although it has been some time in coming!

The subtitle of this article is a quote (with my additional parentheses) from Per-Olaf Astrand, a legendary Scandinavian researcher, and the grandfather of “Work Physiology” (Later to become known as “Exercise Physiology”). The actual quote is “Be a high energy user, not a low energy user”. My parenthetical additions are to avoid the impression that high levels of energy are necessary to elicit health benefits. We now know (Phew!) that this is not the case, as you will see below.

Dr. Astrand’s research showed, way back in the 1960′s, that people who looked for ways to be ‘high energy users’ throughout their day could get great health benefits. Inactive people (‘low energy users’) on the other hand would gain no health benefits. He emphasized the importance of his findings by another often quoted comment

“Anyone wishing to adopt a sedentary lifestyle should first of all undergo a stringent medical examination to see if they are fit enough to stand the inactivity!”

Dr. Astrand was so far ahead of his time that it took more than 30 years for his insights to become a part of national guidelines.  In 1996 The Surgeon General’s Report (SGR) was published and laid out the relationship between Physical Activity and Health. The bottom line of this report stated that

“Every American should accumulate 30 minute or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week”

‘Moderate intensity’ was considered to be a brisk walk, or any activity that felt about as hard as a brisk walk. In other words something that required a little more energy than ‘usual’. Sound familiar?

Also, if the recommendation of 30 minutes, seems like a long time – no problem – you will see from the SGR quote above that you can accumulate your 30 minutes throughout the day. So, for example, instead of ‘doing the 30’ all at once, you could walk briskly for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. Your brisk walk is the ‘higher energy’ that Dr. Astrand recommended.

Even better, because your body doesn’t differentiate between the kinds of ‘energy’ you use, you can get to your 30 minutes with a variety of activities!  So for example, instead of 3 sessions of walking throughout the day, you could wash the car in the morning, rake leaves after lunch, and do the vacuuming in the evening. Only the energy expenditure counts – the specific activity could be anything capable of being performed at moderate intensity.

So, although for our country’s health, we are seeking to reduce energy costs and reduce energy usage, for our individual health we will be far better off seeking ways to do the exact opposite!

Because of this, I say to anyone whose attention I can attract, “Expend your own personal energy with abandon!” Most everyday tasks (called ‘Activities of Daily Living’ or ADL for short) can be done at a slightly elevated speed, or with just a little more effort, or for just a little longer. So take one of your regular everyday chores, be it vacuuming, raking leaves, washing the car, whatever, and do just a little more than usual. Keep looking for ways to include ADL at this ‘higher energy’ level every day. It will increase both your stamina (aerobic fitness) and your health!

As you think about these ideas – what ADL options are coming up for you?

Get your ‘daily dose’ of 30 today!


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