Enlightened Aging—Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

The rejoinder to the opening words of the 1966 hit about “Feelin’ Groovy” might be different for many of us agers who once grooved to that tune. Rather than, “you got to make the morning last,” we might say instead, “make the evening last,” or “the third act last.”

Everything we do as we age depends on functions that slow over time—our natural walking speed, reaction time, the speed of memory recall, thought, and more. Logic says that when we slow down, we inevitably get less done. So, what can an enlightened ager do?

Abundant research studies document that those who age well tend to narrow their focus to activities that are most highly valued, cutting away the less important or non-essential. They let go!

But there’s more.

When faced with age-related slow down, accept it, adjust with changed expectations, and compensate to avoid catastrophes. A classic example is preventing falls—it’s wise to avoid moving too fast or trying to simultaneously do two or three things at once. Avoid slick or cluttered surfaces, and maintain or develop an exercise habit. For older persons that habit could include balance exercises to help compensate for slower reaction times to avoid falls from trips or slips. Likewise, common sense dictates that it’s wise to not move too fast in finance and business transactions, or in making changes about relationships. Take your time in both old and cherished relationship and new ones that involve commitments.

Slow down, don’t move too fast but keep doing: Physical activity, including calisthenics, can minimize decline or reverse it after a setback or when unacceptable decline occurs, and rehab is needed to regain strength or stamina. The same is true with cognitive calisthenics, especially active ones like word puzzles or writing. As a partially retired clinical researcher, my cognitive calisthenics include being a critical reviewer of reports, research papers or grant applications—a form of brain exercises for me.

The bottom line for me is that while “ENLIGHTENED” agers accept that we don’t function at the same speed as we did when we were younger, we also don’t let age-related change knock us off kilter. We try to “keep on trucking.”

As I wrote this essay, I was reminded of examples involving couples climbing or hiking to relive important events from their young lives. Thirty years ago, on a hut-to-hut hiking trip in Norway, I raced pass an older couple climbing the country’s highest peak, Galdhøpiggen. Moving very slowly, they were celebrating their lives together with a climb they had done when they were young newlyweds. Then this year’s holiday card from dear friends celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary by reliving their honeymoon backpack in the high Sierras with a short day hike. This year they even plan a short backpack trek. My friend wrote, “We’ll be slow but hopefully safe, and we’ll have climbing poles, which we didn’t have 60+ years ago.”

So slow down to focus on what’s important to you and your loved ones. You may need to let go of some things and dare not move too fast but if you don’t stop, you’ll have a better chance at “feelin’ groovy.”

Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, is the author, with Joan DeClaire, of Enlightened Aging. He is the founding principal investigator of the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study, ongoing for about 30 years. ACT recently was awarded a $55.6 million expansion grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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