I was contacted by Harry Cline, the creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers, about writing an article for this blog. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.
Harry’s article below contains some great information. He and I are definitely on the same page that individuals need to take steps to nurture their physical, mental and emotional health sooner rather than later. Please enjoy, and be sure to check out Harry’s website:
YOGA AND MEDITATION FOR 50 SOMETHINGS AND OLDER
This ancient exercise, which dates back over 5,000 years isn’t just for younger folks with the flexibility to twist and fold their bodies into 3D origami. Older people benefit just as much—some experts say even more—from practicing yoga.
Better flexibility and joint health: Yoga’s gentle, low-impact poses gradually loosen and tone muscles and increase flexibility and range of motion even in bodies made stiff and achy with arthritis or age.
Better stability and balance: As the muscles become stronger and more toned, balance and stability improve — a definite benefit among an elderly population for whom falls are the leading cause of injury.
Better breathing: People who practice Pranayama, a type of breathing that pairs with yoga and increases the metabolic rate of respiratory function and anaerobic capacity, improve their lung and cardiovascular functions.
Less anxiety and stress: Regular yoga practice reduces your body’s sympathetic nervous system and flight-or-fight response and activates the parasympathetic system and relaxation response. This system lowers breathing and heart rates, cortisol levels, decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow to vital organs.
Lower blood pressure: A study on yoga’s effect on oxidative stress in older people with hypertension concluded that this exercise effectively improves antioxidant defenses among elderly patients (age 60 – 80) with high blood pressure.
More mindfulness: Yoga practitioners become more in tune with their bodies, thoughts and emotions. Increased mindfulness helps people to maintain good mental health.
Alas, it’s a biological fact that as we age, our mental functions decrease and the likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, increases. However, research has shown that meditation can slow mental decline.
People who meditate regularly have better memory and cognitive function because the grey matter of their brains is thicker. Why does that matter? The brain’s thick, outer layer stores the functions of memory, reasoning, attention span and cognition. Meditation keeps it healthier.
Have trouble focusing without your brain hopping from one thought to the next? Meditation helps with that, too, by slowing down your mind and keeping it from over-stimulated multitasking. An ancillary benefit to a slower, focused mind? Better sleep!
Have you laid in bed at night listening to your mind race from topic to topic, rehashing conversations from weeks or months ago, generating lists—and lists of lists? Do you think, “I can’t shut my brain off?” Meditating before bedtime helps to relax and prepare your mind for sleeping. Like Pranayama, or deep breathing, meditation also kicks your parasympathetic nervous system into gear, activating the “relaxation” mode and turning off the fight-or-flight mode.
In addition to reducing anxiety, stress and excitement when meditation triggers your parasympathetic system, you’ll experience improved digestion. Living in a constant state of survival mode slows your metabolism; relaxation enables your body to assimilate and use the nutrients present in the foods you eat—and your body can excrete waste more easily when it’s relaxed.
The number of prescriptions you need often increases as you age. If you’re working through illness or chronic pain, meditation can relieve some of that discomfort. Meditation and mindfulness teach you how to work with instead of against pain.
Older people—and their caregivers—often experience increased anxiety and depression that result from physical health issues, loss, loneliness, sudden life and lifestyle changes. When used in conjunction with or in lieu of antidepressants and with a practitioner’s guidance, mindfulness meditation can reduce those symptoms and give practitioners better control of their mental health.
Meditation and yoga during addiction recovery
Addiction drives a wedge between your relationship with your physical, mental and spiritual self, but meditation and yoga help to rebuild that connection. Yoga encourages you to become more comfortable in your own skin; its low-impact moves help gradually restore physical fitness. Meditation teaches you how to manage your emotions and more healthfully deal with stress.
Stress and anxiety that result from chronic illness, disability or stressful life events erode your mental and physical health. Practicing yoga and meditation won’t halt aging’s effects, but they’ll help you manage it and increase feelings of health and well-being. If you’re a caregiver, you’ll reap benefits, too, because self-care enables you to care for others who depend on you.