The most precious resource of all human beings is our ability to reason and interact with the world around us. Luckily, healthy adults can maintain their overall intellectual performance into their eighties and beyond. Your language ability, sensory and immediate memory, and problem-solving skills normally will change little over time. An important part of staying younger, however, is taking steps to exercise your mind, including your thinking ability and your learning capacity, to keep all of your mental processes working optimally. Think of your brain as just another muscle, one that has to be exercised regularly to keep it in optimal condition. This article lets you know how to get started, by giving you specific memory exercises and ways to reverse memory loss.
It’s also important to know how to distinguish between normal memory lapses and more serious mind-related problems, such as depression, dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease, that may be treatable to enhance your enjoyment of life. Likewise, spirituality and religion are a comfort to many individuals and can provide much-needed emotional support. You should also realize that a high level of creativity is possible throughout your life span, and examples of the creative works of older minds abound. Read on to get started in keeping your mind, along with your body, in tip-top shape throughout your lifetime.
Creativity and Aging
To start on a positive note, growing older by no means results in an inevitable end to your creative thought processes. On the contrary, the concept that you can and will continue having a productive life for years to come has been demonstrated by many and has been encapsulated by poets throughout the ages, from Seneca, who stated, “The best morsel is reserved to the last,” to Robert Browning, who exclaimed, “Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.”
Examples abound of extraordinarily creative older people whose achievements vie with those of anyone younger. As poetically detailed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Nothing is too late till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.”
Among scientists, Galileo changed our view of the earth round versus flat-when he was a robust 74. Benjamin Franklin gave us bifocal glasses at 78, and Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id was published when he was 67. Giuseppe Verdi wrote Otello at 74 and Falstaff at 80. Richard Wagner’s Ring operas were written after his 60th birthday. George Bernard Shaw continued to write plays into his 90s, Goethe wrote the second part of Faust at 80, and Cervantes was in his 60s when he wrote Don Quixote. Prolific author James Michener wrote ten very long books in the last 4 years of his over-90-year life.
Among artists and performers, Michelangelo produced two Pietàs, one at 22 and the other at 90. His Last Judgment was painted when he was relatively young: between 57 and 66 years old. Pablo Picasso was extraordinarily productive throughout life, Henri Matisse did his cut outs in old age, and Grandma Moses produced her last painting at age 103. Interestingly, Claude Monet did his best Impressionist art after he developed cataracts. Finally, on the big screen, actress Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for her colourful performance in Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 when she was 80 years of age, making her the oldest actor or actress ever to win an Academy Award, beating out George Burns by just 1 year for his work in The Sunshine Boys at the age of 79. When he reached the one century mark in 1996, he had successfully spent 80 years in show business, appearing in his last movie just 2 years before his death occurring not long after his 100th birthday.
What Causes Memory Loss, and How Much Is Normal?
Whether you’re still creative or not, you’re likely to experience a decrease in your ability to learn and remember things as you age. For instance, a study of Harvard physicians found that between forty and seventy years of age, most of them experienced an approximate 18 percent decrease in this ability. While the extent of changes in learning ability varies widely from person to person, everyone shows some degree of decline over time, along with reductions in skills like riding a bike or judging distances accurately.
Memory loss, or not being able to remember what you’ve already learned, is a different ball game, but it can be a frightening occurrence whether it’s minor forgetfulness or the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. How much memory loss is normal? Although you will experience a slower rate of learning and memorizing things, you should not lose your memory—short-term or long-term—simply from getting older. Some degree of forgetfulness is normal, but you should maintain the ability to function in your job and remember the names of your spouse, children, friends, and so on. In fact, you should never forget the names of your close relatives and friends, as forgetting who they are would be abnormal. The kind of memory loss that would be concerning is completely forgetting entire events. For example, it would be normal to not recall the name of a movie you saw last weekend, but it’s not normal to forget that you saw a movie at all.
The most common causes of normal memory loss are stress and anxiety, followed by depression, all of which are considered reversible. Only after these emotional states are eliminated would other medical conditions be considered as potential causes, and Alzheimer’s disease would actually be far down the list. Most older adults who complain about memory loss do not have Alzheimer’s disease; rather, many are either experiencing normal forgetfulness or suffering from mild mental impairment, depression, stress, anxiety, fatigue, insufficient sleep, or other medical issues (such as a prior head trauma resulting in unconsciousness) that are impacting their short-term memory.
Tips for Better Health
Everyone experiences a decreased ability to learn and memorize things over time, but while some degree of forgetfulness is normal, memory loss is not usual. For instance, it would not be concerning to forget the name of a movie you saw last weekend, but you shouldn’t forget that you saw a movie at all.
Before a person can be diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease or even dementia, the reversible causes of memory loss should be treated fi rst. These potential causes are listed in Table 4.1, along with ways to treat each problem and restore memory function.
Sometimes the cure is incredibly simple, such as when medical students at Saint Louis University found that removing excess wax from the ears of nursing home residents improved their mental status more than most drugs did. People with uncontrolled diabetes can act impaired because blood glucose levels higher than 200 mg/dL interfere with normal learning and memory, as do triglyceride (blood fat) levels higher than 150 mg/dL. Likewise, aggressive treatment of anemia using hormones like erythropoietin to boost red blood cells improves mental function as soon as oxygen delivery to the brain is enhanced.
Table: Reversing Memory Loss
Exercise Your Mind to Keep It Healthy
Not surprisingly, the same advice that we gave for achieving physical fi tness applies to mental fi tness: “Use it or lose it.” Just as daily exercise strengthens certain muscle groups, mental exercises will strengthen and enhance your cognitive function. The goal of brain fi tness is to revive certain mental abilities before they slow down or reverse such changes if they have already taken place.
Mental Exercises for a Healthier Mind
- Try to memorize any sort of list, and at the end of the day, try to recall as many of the items as you can. You can memorize any list that is new to you (e.g., a list of groceries you need that week), but try to make it as challenging as possible for maximum mental stimulation.
- Each time you answer the phone, practice recognizing the callers before they identify themselves. Then memorize the caller’s phone number. At the end of the day and later at the end of the week, try to write down the names of all the people you have spoken with and their phone numbers.
- Pick an object each day to observe and then draw (to stimulate your short-term memory). To work your long-term memory, at the end of the week draw all seven objects from each day of the week without looking to see what they were.
- Whenever you walk into a room, try to quickly determine how many people, pieces of furniture, and other objects in it are on your right and on your left. Also, pick out any details that have changed since your last visit, if it’s a usual room.
- When you have visited somewhere and then return home, try to draw a plan or map of the place you have seen. Repeat this exercise every time you return from somewhere new.
- Take a sentence from something you are reading and try to make other sentences using the same words, but in a different order. As an alternative, try substituting new words in several places without making the sentence nonsensical.
- Try playing challenging card or board games that require mental reasoning, such as pinochle, bridge, chess, checkers, or Othello. To keep them fresh and challenging, avoid playing the same games all the time.
- Do daily crossword puzzles, anagrams, and other word or reasoning games. Recently, Sudoku has become an excellent source of such exercises.
- Find new games and interests, as well as different activities and partners for your chosen games and activities.
- Listen to or read the news; later on, try to write down a summary, or main points, of all that you heard or read.
- Read challenging articles and books, including non fiction, fiction, poetry, classic literature, and more.
- When you see a word, think of as many others that begin with the same two letters as you can. Alternately, use the last two letters of the word and think of other words with that ending.
- When eating, try to identify the individual ingredients in what you’re eating, including the subtle flavorings of herbs and spices. Exercise your senses of smell and touch by trying to identify objects with your eyes closed, both indoors and outdoors.
- Try to do something new or unusual every day that requires you to think. For example, vary the route that you take home to see if you can fi gure out a slightly different way to arrive at your usual destination.
- Practice doing math problems in your head: adding, subtracting, multiplying, figuring out percentages from decimals, and so on. Practice to get better at doing any types of math problems that you fi nd particularly challenging.
- Learn a new language, either on your own or by taking a class. Sign up for other courses that are challenging and fun.
- Play video games, particularly ones that require quick responses. It will give you something to do with your kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.
- Use your imagination and your creativity to think up new ways to exercise your mind on a daily basis.
Tip for Better Health
Exercising both your mind and your body with daily exercises can keep your mental status sharper. Do daily (and varied) mental and physical activity for optimal mental sharpness and physical fitness.
Just as you need to exercise your mind to keep the neurons firing well and your mental processes sharp, exercising your body will also keep your mind healthy. Exercise can improve not only your physical health but also your mental well-being, because almost all forms of physical activity improve insulin sensitivity and simultaneously decrease your risk of vascular changes—one of the risk factors for dementia and cognitive declines. Participation in leisure physical activities reduces your risk, and all levels of exercise may prevent or delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you’re already suffering from some noticeable mental changes, all is not lost. Exercise training also improves mental functioning and positive behaviour in people who have already developed some level of dementia and other related cognitive changes.
Exercise improves memory and mental function in two ways. First, it enhances your heart’s function, which means that it can pump more effectively and perfuse your brain with a rich supply of blood, along with lowering your risk for vascular problems. Second, exercise also has a direct impact on growth factors in the brain, which are proteins that naturally nourish the brain cells and help repair small injuries, thus allowing them to remain healthy and functional. Two of these growth factors, brain-derived neurotropic factor and nerve growth factor, have both been shown to increase with exercise and to improve memory. Thus exercise makes your brain repair itself to allow it to work better. Regular physical activity can additionally alleviate many of the reversible causes of memory loss by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. Any type of physical activity is an effective, but often underused, treatment for mild to moderate depression and emotional stress. Exercising helps you release fewer stress hormones as well, which will help you sleep better, gain less fat weight, and keep your immune system stronger. To treat anxiety, more intense exercise may be more effective because it causes a greater release of beta-endorphins, which are brain hormones with calming effects.
Dealing with Depression
While dementia is the most common mental illness to afflict older people, depression is more devastating for the individual and family members, and it can occur at any age. Pervasive sadness can totally destroy your ability to function, often leading to suicidal thoughts and actions. In addition, living with depressed individuals can leave the rest of the family exhausted and drained of all their enthusiasm for life. Feeling blue can negatively impact all aspects of living well, both mental and physical, but the good news is that it’s treatable.
Who Gets Depressed and Why?
Despite the general expectation that older people’s life experiences, such as losing a spouse, job, house, or friends, lead to justifiable depression, major depressive disorders occur more commonly in young women and men than in older ones. Lack of proper diet at young age because of the hectic schedules is also one of its cause. Older people generally cope better with disease and adversity than their younger counterparts. However, as people begin to suffer from more diseases and decreased feelings of youthfulness, even older individuals may develop an intermediate version of sadness known as dysphoria. Moreover, if you become depressed when you’re older, it’s more likely to go unrecognized and untreated. For this reason, early detection and treatment is essential, particularly for anyone older than fifty.
Depressive symptoms are often atypical, meaning that the usual ones may not be prominent or even evident. Some people may complain about dizziness or loud tinnitus (ringing in their ears), or they may experience severe weight loss. Depression can even be misdiagnosed as dementia or cognitive impairment. When you’re depressed, you often lack the desire to answer questions that may detect depression. Suicide occurs most commonly in older white males, and two out of three people who commit suicide actually will have had a doctor’s appointment in the month before. They generally have no specifi c complaints of depression, and consequently, their cry for help is often missed. When anyone ever says that he or she is thinking of suicide, this statement must be taken seriously and appropriate treatments started right away.
A number of medical conditions are also associated with a greater risk of depression, including pancreatic cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and most hormonal disorders. The major neurotransmitter abnormalities resulting in depression are related to norepinephrine and serotonin, both of which are substances found in the brain. Elevated levels of another hormone, corticotropin-releasing factor, appears to cause most of the vegetative signs of depression, including weight loss, sleep disturbances, constipation, erectile dysfunction, and decreased libido. It’s also responsible for elevating blood cortisol levels, which causes faster bone thinning and decreased insulin action. What’s more, if you’re depressed and have a heart attack, you’re likely to fare less well and have another cardiac problem within a year.
Tips for Better Health
Depression is a common and emotionally devastating condition that can strike at any age and often goes undetected and untreated the older you are. If you feel unusually sad for an extended period, seek out treatment from your physician before you end up with limitations from physical symptoms as well.
How Depression Is Treated
Depression is effectively treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy), drugs, and electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy). One-third or more of people with depression will spontaneously get better, and drugs and psychotherapy will cure approximately another third. Electroconvulsive therapy will cure eight out of ten people, but is less commonly used.
Numerous drugs have been developed for the treatment of depression. The two major classes are tricyclics, which alter norepinephrine function, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that may be more effective for severe depression. Tricyclics are more sedative and have a large number of potentially undesirable side effects, including an increased risk of glaucoma, abnormal heart rhythms, urinary retention and incontinence, hip fractures, and falls. A large number of SSRIs are available, and although many physicians consider them to be safer to use than tricyclics, SSRIs have many potential side effects. For instance, they can cause low sodium levels in blood, stomach bleeding, hip fractures, falls, sleep disturbances, and more. Thus, neither class of drugs has potential side effects that are desirable.
In addition to traditional medical therapy, some herbal remedies for depression have been tried. For example, Saint John’s wort (hypericum perforatum) is an herbal drug that has shown effi cacy against mild (but not major) depression in some studies. It appears to have fewer side effects than tricyclics or SSRIs but has not been thoroughly studied in this regard.
Where Do We Go from Here? What’s The Solution?
For some reason, psychologically ill persons are often blamed for their problems. Physicians have little difficulty treating the physical ailments of smokers, alcoholics, drug abusers, obese individuals, and those with sexually transmitted diseases. Yet they often fail to prescribe appropriate therapies for emotional changes.
When a mind malfunctions, one or more neurotransmitters have now started to jump in the wrong rhythm or are failing to be recognized by the receptors that normally receive them. Such a phenomenon is no different from many metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, or classical neurological disorders like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. It’s time to make treatment of major mental health disorders a central part of staying young.
What Are Mild Neurocognitive Disorder and Dementia?
Being cognitively impaired, becoming demented, or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are not possibilities that anyone wants to dwell on. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand what causes such mental changes, so that if there is anything preventive that you can do, you have the option of trying to keep your mental function intact. As discussed, all individuals lose some of the ability to learn things at the rate they did when they were younger. If we live long enough, many of us (but certainly not all) will become truly cognitively impaired at some point and lose our ability to reason rationally, that wondrous quality that separates us from the other members of the animal kingdom.
The physiological or psychological conditions that can lead to cognitive impairment include not only reversible causes of memory loss, but also stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of tumours, cardiovascular problems, schizophrenia, and severe anxiety. These and many other disorders may produce symptoms of cognitive impairment. Your doctor should be able to determine whether your cognitive changes result from a reversible condition and help you to treat them effectively if they do.
However, certain other conditions affecting mental processes are harder to reverse. For example, mild neurocognitive disorder can often be the harbinger of other changes to come. It is present when you are experiencing small but noticeable alterations in your ability to think. People with it can continue to function relatively normally, but this condition isn’t necessarily benign, as it progresses to some form of dementia within fi ve years in about 50 percent of people with these cognitive changes. To see if you have any signs of it, have someone test you using the Saint Louis University Mental Status (SLUMS) Examination that Dr. John helped to develop, given in the appendix. If you want to know your chances of progression, have a brain MRI done to determine the volume of your hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates memory, as small hippocampal volumes are predictive of future declines.
Moreover, approximately half of us will, if we live long enough, also develop some level of dementia. By definition, dementia means memory loss plus deficits in one or more areas of cognition. To be diagnosed with dementia, you must be unable to carry out some of your normal functioning, such as no longer being able to handle your finances, to work, or to take medications properly. While our loss of thought processes is not likely to greatly worry us personally (due to our lesser ability to think), it will certainly be traumatic for our friends and relatives.
The most devastating form of dementia is called Lewy body dementia and occurs in about one in ten cases. Its impact is potentially the most damaging because the people it afflicts have behavior problems early in the disease process. In one case, a deacon with Lewy body dementia, who had been happily married for forty years, started to make sexually inappropriate remarks to members of his congregation and undress in public! Unexplained angry outbursts by individuals with this type of dementia can also increase well in advance of memory decline.
Although a proper diet is required to avoid Alzheimer’s disease but milk is proven to prevent Alzheimer’s disease effectively.
Dementia itself has many potential causes, such as high blood pressure resulting in vascular changes that reduce blood flow to the brain (common in diabetes). The most usual cause of dementia, however, is Alzheimer’s disease, making Alzheimer’s just one of the different types of dementias, although the onset and progression vary with the origin. Alzheimer’s disease is not as common as people believe. Only one in a hundred people in their sixties develops this disease; in people in their seventies, the incidence is only two or three per hundred. The numbers are only significantly higher when people reach their eighties and nineties.
Unfortunately, the drugs available to treat dementia work poorly, so little can be done to reverse its symptoms, aside from treating the reversible causes of memory loss in case any of them are contributing to the severity of the dementia. For individuals with diabetes, reducing the severity of vascular problems can provide greater blood flow to the brain and potentially improve their symptoms.
Tip for Better Health
Mild neurocognitive disorder involves small alterations in your ability to think and may progress to dementia, characterized by memory loss plus deficits in one or more areas of cognition. Drugs to treat dementia work poorly, so the best approach is to simply treat the reversible causes of memory loss.
New Insights into Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease that many fear getting, but relatively few will. If you have dealt with an aging relative with Alzheimer’s, you have fi rsthand experience of how bad it can be. It essentially causes family members to mourn twice: fi rst when they lose mental contact with the person they know and love, and again when that person dies much later. Undeniably, it’s a devastating disorder of the brain that leads to memory loss, alterations in behavior and personality, inability to think appropriately, and loss of function.
This disease was f irst described by the pathologist, Alois Alzheimer, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He associated the changes in memory with the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofi brillary tangles in the brain (more on these later). While the majority of people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are older, it can occur in middle age. Some individuals die in the fi rst few years after diagnosis, but most survive eight to ten years and a few as long as twenty. At present, about four million Americans have it. Over the last decade, researchers have markedly enhanced knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease. We can only look forward to seeing further breakthroughs in the near future that will lead to an enhanced quality of life for anyone developing this debilitating disease.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
At present, there are two major theories about the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. First, overproduction of beta-amyloid, a brain molecule produced in nerve cells, directly inhibits the ability to learn and recall events and also sets in motion a cascade of events that leads to brain tissue destruction. Dr. John and other researchers have found that in some cases beta-amyloid accumulates excessively in the human brain, leading to a build up of toxic products and memory loss. The second theory is that this disease occurs when oxygen free radicals cause nerve degeneration. As evidence of this process, treatment with a free radical scavenger, alpha-lipoic acid, leads to improved memory. And talking about vitamins, supplementing with vitamin E, a less potent antioxidant, has yielded mixed results. Research suggests that the two potential causes are likely linked.
Likewise, systemic inflammation may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Elevated levels of ineffective insulin, found in an insulin-resistant state, are more common in people with vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Even if you don’t have diabetes, having elevated insulin levels increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory deficits. Thus, Alzheimer’s disease may actually prove to be another form of diabetes (“type 3”), because brain cells make some of their own insulin, but this hormone disappears early and dramatically in people with this disease, the result being a decreased clearance of beta-amyloid. It’s unclear if lack of insulin or decreased insulin action in the brain occurs only locally or results from a lower insulin action in the rest of the body, but it is well established that poorly controlled diabetes increases your risk of mental decline and Alzheimer’s. There is hope: you likely can improve your mental status by achieving control over your diabetes using medications such as insulin sensitizers.
The health of your cardiovascular system is also very important to the vitality of your brain. Your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with the number of vascular risk factors that you have, such as insulin resistance, diabetes, smoking, hypertension, and heart disease. Diabetes by itself confers a greatly exaggerated risk of vascular complications and mental decline.
Is It Possible to Slow, Reverse, or Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
Right now, ongoing research attempting to slow the overproduction of beta-amyloid offers great hope for more effective treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. A number of potentially reversible factors may accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s, including a low education level, less diverse and intense recreational activities, lower physical activity, high levels of homocysteine (related to inadequate intake of vitamins B6, B12, and folate), and an underactive thyroid gland. An Australian study even concluded that people who pick their noses regularly are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. At present, the safest way to prevent the onset of this disease is to participate in regular physical activity to slow your rate of brain tissue loss. Exercise also helps control blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and lower insulin levels in the blood by reversing insulin resistance. In addition, mental activity also delays potential declines in cognitive function, so make sure to regularly practice the mental exercises given earlier in this article.
Tip for Better Health
Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia but not the only potential cause. The onset of Alzheimer’s is sometimes preventable. The best strategies to prevent its onset include regular physical activity and mental exercises, have proper nutrition along with better control of your cardiovascular risk factors, such as insulin resistance, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Drugs to Treat and Slow the Progression of Alzheimer’s To date, the treatment options for this disease leave a lot to be desired. One of the major neurotransmitters (i.e., substances that conduct nerve impulses) involved in the memory deficits seen in Alzheimer’s disease is acetylcholine (ACh). Some of the available drugs, such as Aricept, block its breakdown, although none currently works very well. Other therapies have been investigated, but have also proven to be unsuccessful, including estrogen replacement and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen.
Are there any alternate therapies for this disease? As discussed , testosterone levels slowly decline over one’s lifetime. A number of studies, including Dr. John’s, have found that this occurrence is associated with a lessening mental function, that visual spatial memory can be enhanced with testosterone replacement, and that low testosterone levels are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In mice, testosterone reduces the production of amyloid precursor protein. In addition, ginkgo biloba is a medicinal herbal substance that appears to have some memory-enhancing effects in animals as well, but it hasn’t been rigorously studied in humans yet. Finally, nootropics, or so-called smart drugs that improve blood flow in the brain, are inexpensive and appear to be about as effective in improving mental function as are the modern drugs.
Ghrelin, Hunger, and Mental Health
Ghrelin, the hormone produced in the stomach that signals when you’re hungry, may not make your body release more growth hormone, but it naturally helps you remember and learn things. This recent discovery could point to a new direction for a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease: ghrelin replacement therapy to restore memory. Not surprising to most of us, there appears to be a direct link between the stomach and the brain. The latest research by Dr. John and others at Saint Louis University shows that high levels of ghrelin, the primary hormone that regulates appetite that tells you that you require proper nutrition as and when required, trigger activity in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory performance. In these studies, mice that lacked the ghrelin gene failed to do as well on behavioural tests, but when they received ghrelin replacement therapy, their memory improved and their ability to learn was restored. Thus ghrelin likely has a physiological role in maintaining memory. In fact, the ghrelin response could date back to the time when man had to forage for food when hungry. If you can’t remember where your dinner ran off to, you’ll have nothing to eat, so a better memory is ultimately important to the long-term survival of our species.
Spirituality and Religion: Their Role in Aging Well
We are just now beginning to fully recognize the role of spirituality and religion in the preservation of psychological and physical health throughout our lifetimes. Overall, both improve psychological health with a lesser effect on physical aspects of health, although not all forms of religion have positive effects. Their main role in health likely is to increase coping skills and enhance access to external support. For example, prayer is a commonly used coping strategy for anyone dealing with disability or life-threatening illnesses. People of all ages also seek to find meaning in their lives. Expressing spirituality through religious practice, compassion, service to others, or passing on wisdom to succeeding generations may bring deep personal satisfaction, comfort, and a sense of peace. Similarly, religious individuals generally live longer and function better, although people don’t necessarily become more religious as they get older.
Be Religious live longer….
Many people think that spirituality and religion are one and the same. You may experience both, but even though everyone has a spiritual component, not everyone is religious. One definition of religion is “a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” As defined, it would suggest that religion is a subset of a larger rubric called spirituality and religion is generally an organized expression of spirituality. Religion offers a way to express spirituality with social support, security, and a sense of belonging through religious affiliations, all of which are important to coping with adversity. Religion is also steeped with tradition, which becomes more important to people the longer they live.
And About Spirituality?
Although religion may include specific beliefs and practices, spirituality is far broader. Defining spirituality, therefore, is a bit like describing colour to a blind person who has never known sight.
Your perception of your spiritual self will vary according to your beliefs. Spirituality is more about being concerned with things of the spirit—the big questions of meaning, metaphysics, and existence.
Being spiritual is thinking about, wondering about, and exploring the deepest aspects of reality, values, morals, and meanings, but it should never be equated with supernaturalism. It’s about all the ways that we try to make sense of living and our attempts to make good come from our lives and actions. Spiritual development provides us with insight and understanding of ourselves and others.
Strategies to Bring Spirituality into Your Life Spiritual awakening is a journey, and you may feel the call to embark on a spiritual path after going throug when certain parts of your life are no longer fl owing as smoothly h a diffi cult time or as they once did. Sharing your unique, personal experiences, even if they are outside of traditional realms, can increase your feelings of spirituality. Talking about your dreams, daydreams, near-death experiences, visions, hallucinations, and more serves as a positive outlet for your emotions.
Similarly, feelings of hope are associated with a longer life. Hope may be used as a means of coping with changes occurring to your body over time because it can improve your expectations for the future, motivate you to take action, or give you the means of fulfilling your goals. Religious and spiritual activity can even help you recover faster from illness or injury.
Finally, creating legacies is another very constructive approach to bringing meaning and spirituality into your life. They may be expressed as written or recorded memoirs, photograph collections, memory gardens, family histories or genealogies, and autobiographies or life histories. For some, making trips to family homes or pilgrimages to locations of spiritual significance also increase positive feelings. For others, telephone calls, prayer circles, televised religious services, and sacred readings may offer hope and solace.
As far as your physical health is concerned, making the effort to attend church services regularly is far better than simply watching televangelists without leaving your home. People who go to churches, mosques, or synagogues tend to maintain their physical and mental function longer than those who don’t. Just getting out of the house and getting some exercise may explain some of these differences.
Tip for Better Health
Both spirituality and religion can help you live the rest of your life with a greater sense of well-being. You don’t have to be religious to experience spirituality, but both can help you deal more positively with adversity (e.g., changes in your body over time or illness) and give a deeper meaning to your life.
Positive Mental Health Factors: A Study
Professor George Valiant at Harvard University followed a group of Harvard graduates from age fifty to eighty years and a group of inner-city dwellers from age fifty to seventy. He found that a number of mental health factors not only were strongly related to survival, but also distinguished who became the “happy-well” as opposed to the “sad-sick” as they aged. Positive mental factors were the ability to deal with adversity, being in a stable marriage, getting some exercise, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, and not becoming overweight. Exercise, especially resistance exercise, decreased depression. Perhaps we can all learn something from this study about how to become one of the happy-well people throughout the rest of our long lives.