At Think Beyond Boundaries, we focus on helping you live the life you want by generating additional income to pursue your life goals. But a big part of enjoying life is being healthy and living it, joyfully, for as long as you can.
I was originally going to talk about mindfulness and the importance of focus, but in reading some research for this article, I came across some startling findings that made me re-commit to my own personal health goals, and I want to share what I found with you in case you find it motivating.
Below I share the simple physical and mental exercises that can boost the quality and length of your life, which is the ultimate goal . Your presence on Earth is so valuable to your loved ones and to your community and I know you want to be there for them. So let’s figure out what we can do about that…
Stretching is so important to your quality of life.
I learned this in a university hospital-based weight loss and wellness program I enrolled in several years ago. The program was run through the same center that helps cardiac patients recover. Many of the participants were older, and the staff shared how the “disabilities” of old age are often due to a lack of motion over time. People have to hire helpers or go into assisted living because they can’t raise their arms any more or turn their heads fully or reach for things or bend their legs. And all of that debilitation is totally avoidable, just by doing stretches every day. The idea of not being able to lift my arm anymore freaked me out enough to make me reflect on how sedentary I had become, yet how good and strong I always felt when active.
Strength tests that correlate with longevity
Sometimes you get on the right path, then life takes over and you find yourself falling into old, bad habits, like not taking care of yourself. I came across an article on Huffington Post, profiling a follow-up study done in England with over 2,800 women and men, comparing their performance on physical ability tests at 53 years of age with mortality 13 years later.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that not being able to do the tests or not doing well on the tests compared to others was significantly associated with early mortality, controlling for other factors.
The gut punch conclusion of the study?
“Even at this relatively young age these measures identify groups of people who are less likely than others to achieve a long and healthy life.”
The scientists used three tests: Grip strength, chair-rise speed, and standing balance time. The one most associated with early death was the balance test. Basically being able to stand on one leg and keep your balance (with eyes closed) for at least 10 seconds means you’ll tend to live longer. For the chair test, being able to stand up and sit down over 35 times (women) or 37 times (men) was associated with longevity. Grip strength was measured with a device called an electronic handgrip dynamometer. I don’t know where to get one of those, but I’ve begun to have flash backs to the squeeze hand grips my dad used to have which would give your hand a good workout! (I just checked and they are less than five bucks at Target, just saying…).
The same HuffPo article had more longevity tests from different studies. For example, one study showed that people who are able to get up to a standing position from the ground with no hand or knee support were less likely to die over the course of the study (participants ranged in age fro 50 to 80 years old). The more hand and knee support needed, the higher the mortality rate. I know I’m not on the right track with that one! Yep. Time to get back on the ball with my fitness…
Your natural walking speed is another test. Apparently, if you walk naturally (not speed walking) at 2.2 miles an hour, that’s associated with an average life expectancy for your age. The faster your natural speed, the longer you’ll live. What’s unclear is can you speed up your natural walk speed or does it get better with fitness (probably). It was by the University of Pittsburgh; I’ll have to find it.
Brain workouts to keep your mind sharp for a long time
Other kinds of exercises are also important, like brain exercises to keep your mind sharp. Sometimes called neurobics, simple activities are done regularly like playing word games or doing mental math, learning an instrument, testing your recall of lists of items, or drawing a map from memory (that’s actually a design exercise I do with community members–cool to know it’s a brain boosting one too!)All of those (and more) can keep your mind sharp. Also, switching it up is useful, like using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth or reach for things at the table; look at pictures and other familiar objects upside-down, or figuring out new ways to use everyday objects.
In fact, I just thought of how to turn that into a family game. Someone picks an ordinary object and the player has to figure out 10 different ways to use the object (e.g. a book could be a hammer, a coaster, a podium, etc.) The more things you can think of, the more points you get. I think that would be fun! You can find 11 more intriguing brain activities here.
Reducing stress and improving long term health through mindfulness
A third kind of quality of life exercise that is more mental is to work on improving your mindfulness
Mindfulness means knowing your own mind, knowing your own thoughts and being in touch with and in-control of your emotions. This, in turn, makes you less likely to feel stress and anxiety and better able to focus when you want to get work done. The problem is that many of us lack mindfulness as we live in a time when we are constantly being distracted by different thoughts and interruptions. We carry devices that are constantly ringing and buzzing and everywhere we look, there are adverts flashing and moving and trying to get our attention.
In light of all this, what are some ways you can improve your mindfulness?
The most obvious way to boost your mindfulness is to practice meditation. Specifically? Mindfulness meditation. This is the practice of sitting quietly and reflecting on your own thoughts in a way that keeps you detached from their emotional content. You’ll learn to not only focus better when you need to, but also to understand the contents of your own mind so that you can avoid letting them dictate how you feel at any given time.
Count the number of times you both sit down and stand up. You could do this for the test above that measures your strength! Actually, this exercise is about keeping track throughout the day. (Bonus tip: we should be standing up for at least 10 minutes of every hour.)
We are so distracted throughout the day that we can struggle to keep any idea or thought in our mind for long. To demonstrate this, try this simple exercise at home: tomorrow, try and count every single time you either sit down or stand up. This seems easy but the fact is that you will be likely to consistently forget to do it as you’ll be so distracted by other things! Work on it and you’ll eventually learn to introduce new thoughts and to be mindful of what’s going on around you.
Bonus tip 2: If you struggle with this, try wearing a bracelet on one hand. This will remind you to be mindful each time you see it!
Smell the Roses (and other things…)
This means tune into your senses. Every now and then, it can be a powerful exercise to simply become more aware of your senses. There is so much around you that you don’t see, so have a look around and see if there is anything interesting you missed. Likewise, listen and see if there are sounds in the faint distance that you would otherwise have missed. This exercise includes being aware of your body and where it is in space. How is your weight distributed? Do you feel a breeze at all?
It’s amazing that just by incorporating a few new routines into our daily activities, we can keep our stress down, bodies strong, and mind sharp for the long haul. Just like my commitment to practicing daily gratitude, I plan to do a better job taking care of my health, starting with these four practices.
I hope you found these tips useful!