If there is one truth in life, it is this: we all age and we cannot stop it.
Unfortunately, many individuals fear aging. Much of this fear is driven by the stereotypical ideas of what aging is – it’s all downhill, filled with impairment and frailty – a stereotype further fueled by the multi-billion-dollar anti-aging industry.
However, there is another camp of thinking, one that states that aging is a privilege, an opportunity for continued learning and growth. By acknowledging aging as an opportunity for growth, it allows the individual to take ownership over what their aging process will look like.
Although we cannot stop aging, we can age well, a concept known to many as Optimal Aging, Healthy Aging, or Successful Aging. Although our genetics play a role in development, lifestyle behaviours become more important as we age. Research shows that there are three vital behaviours that determine healthy living: proper nutrition, physical activity, and stress management. Through the cultivation of mindfulness, we can deliberately practice these lifestyle behaviours by being present in our daily lives.
Mindfulness is often defined as the practice of paying attention, in the present moment, without judgment. The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation stems from the Buddhist tradition and was secularised by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. Through the practice of mindfulness, we cultivate several important attitudes: non-judgment, acceptance, letting go, trust, patience, non-striving, and beginners mind. The practice of compassion, for the self and others, is also integral to the cultivation of mindfulness.
So how does the practice of mindfulness facilitate healthy living and optimal aging?
The formal practice of mindfulness meditation consists of the daily practice of focused attention, commonly using the breath as an anchor to the present moment. By focusing on the breath, we are refraining from reflecting about the past or worrying about the future, two activities that our mind loves to do without our conscious awareness. By refraining from daily contemplation and worry, we learn to respond rather than react to our environment, which can at times be perceived as stressful, regardless of age, sex or gender.
To learn how mindfulness interacts with lifestyle behaviours to enhance health and well-being, please join Dr. Alexandra Fiocco on May27th 2016 at the North York Senior Centre for her speaker series " Just Breathe: Cultivating Mindfulness for Healthy Living.
About the Author:
Dr. Alexandra J. Fiocco is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Ryerson University and Director of the Stress and Healthy Aging Research Lab where she conducts research on predictors and promotion of optimal aging. For further information on her research please visit her website: http://psychlabs.ryerson.ca/starlab/