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Taking your exercise outdoors offers unique benefits for physical, cognitive, and emotional health.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Why work out in a fitness center when you can get a great cardio workout enjoying fresh air and great views?

Of all the opportunities for outdoor exercise around NOVA, hiking may be the most versatile — and one of the most beneficial for your body, brain and mood. It can even impart a sense of awe. “I find hiking very inspiring,” says Cindy Morrow. “We are surrounded by beauty!”

Cindy and her husband Gene have enjoyed hiking together for the duration of their 49-year marriage. When they moved to the D.C. area from the Ozarks in Missouri in 2014, she says, “We were happy to see there are mountains, rivers and amazing hiking opportunities.”

The Morrows are part of a small hiking group of future residents of The Mather, a Life Plan Community that will open in Tysons in 2024. The group gets together every month or two for a day hike, most recently in Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia. “Hiking is more fun with a group,” says Cindy. “For one thing, it makes us put something on the calendar and go. The Mather group allows us to make friends with so many interesting people!”

A Walking Workout

Hiking — even on flat land — will exercise muscles including your quadriceps, hamstrings, lower leg and hip muscles. Hiking on an unpaved, slightly uneven trail will also engage the core muscles in your torso. Like any other cardio workout, hiking is good for your cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as sleep quality and weight loss. (A brisk hike can burn up to 550 calories per hour.) And because walking is a weight-bearing exercise, it also helps build bone density.

Step Up to a Better Mood

Walking is good for your brain, as well as your body. Through simple exercise, your body begins to release proteins and chemicals which can help lower stress levels and have positive benefits on memory.

Another benefit of hiking is the release of endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain that minimize any physical discomfort, blocking the feeling of pain and causing a natural “feel good” rush.

Hit the Trail, Not the Treadmill

Research shows that taking your exercise outdoors compared to working out in a gym offers unique benefits for physical, cognitive and emotional health:

  • Multiple studies have shown that regular exposure to “green areas” can cause our bodies to relax and let go of stress, as well as ease anxiety. One study found that people in nature had slower heart rates and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who spent time in the city.
  • Walking or exercising outdoors has also been proven to strengthen short-term memory. Simply spending time in nature is also associated with improved concentration and attention spans.
  • Studies have linked time spent in nature with lower levels of inflammation, reduced hypertension and even a stronger immune system.

Research found that people who run outside exert more energy than treadmill runners; they also enjoy it more and therefore will run for longer periods of time.

Want to try a hike? The Morrows recommend Catoctin Mountain Park, Great Falls Park, “anywhere along the Shenandoah,” and Rock Creek Park, among many others.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. With an enviable urban neighborhood location, the community offers easy access to the area’s parks and hiking trails.

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Regular meditation is terrific for your brain health

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

When it comes to doing something good for your cognitive health, skip the “brain games” and try meditation. Regular meditation has proven benefits for your brain, which can sharpen your memory, boost your mood and even make you more compassionate.

Build Your Brain

A major health benefit of regular meditation is that it reduces stress, which prevents a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, as well as prevents damage to our brains. More importantly, studies show that meditation can actually grow, or increase the volume of, areas of the brain responsible for:

  • complex cognitive processes including planning, goal setting, decision making, attention and short-term memory
  • positive mood
  • improving awareness of body, gut feeling and empathy
  • long-term memory
  • paying attention (which is crucial to improving memory)

When you meditate, you are training your attention by tuning out the information overload and jumbled thoughts we live with constantly — and better attention means a sharper memory. Preliminary research seems to strengthen this theory, suggesting that mindfulness meditation may enhance certain brain functions, including working memory.

Types of Meditation 

Meditation is simple and takes as little as a few minutes a day. But remember — if you want to enjoy the brain benefits, you’ll need to meditate regularly and ideally that means every day.

Here are a few types of meditation to consider:

Mindfulness sitting meditation is the most common form of meditation. Sit comfortably with your back, neck and head straight but not stiff. Concentrate on your breathing and the sensations it creates. When your mind wanders or you become distracted, gently return your focus to your breath. Try this for just five minutes at first, gradually increasing the time.

Visualization meditation involves mental visualization of an image, which is usually meaningful or religious. While you meditate (as above), you try to mentally visualize your chosen image in as much detail as possible. As you do so, you may also reflect on the meaning of your image.

Walking meditation is similar to sitting meditation. Slowly and comfortably walk, focusing your attention on each step, the movement of your body and the feel of each foot on the ground. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the movement of walking.

Loving-kindness meditation focuses on practicing compassion. As you practice cultivating feelings of loving kindness, gradually move your focus from feeling this toward yourself, then to loved ones and then to people who are less close to you.

Look for a local meditation class, or purchase audio recordings of guided meditations. Once you’ve mastered the basics of your chosen type of meditation, it will become a matter of practicing — and enjoying the benefits that come with it.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. The community’s biophilic design is planned to include a live herb wall, spa lounge with Himalayan sea salt wall, and much more — plus meditation and mindfulness programs for residents to enjoy.

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Caroline Edasis (left) and Marcy Maler guide Mather residents in Aging Well through vibrant and colorful creative arts programming.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

By Caroline Edasis, Director of Community Engagement, Mather

Research has shown that older adults who engage with the arts in a group setting — anything from dancing to a poetry group to singing in a choir — enjoy tangible benefits in multiple areas of health. This has to do with feelings of mastery, and with social connection.

What makes the journey of a lifetime so rewarding is the excitement of new possibilities — lifelong opportunities to learn more, do more, see more, experience more and feel more connected to the world around us.

With this in mind, creative arts can be an opportunity for older adults to master new forms of self-expression.

Open Studio, Open Mind

Arts engagement can be a vehicle for wellness, not just recreation. Both lifelong and new artists can explore their own Creative Age by working in diverse media including ceramics and mixed media/painting. A new love for a specific media, or a personal project can be pursued while learning more about yourself and others.

A Fresh Look at Art Appreciation

Teaching or encouraging art appreciation, can be done through lectures from an expert such as a docent. Inquiry-based art-viewing techniques — used in art appreciation — focus on the interests, experiences, and the curiosity of viewers to deliver intellectually stimulating content while challenging us to bring culture down from the pedestal and into our lives.

Did you know that the average person spends 17 seconds looking at a work of art in a museum? Within visual literacy programs, an hour can be spent describing an image, sharing stories conjured by the work of art, or even creating group poems in response to the work.

Creativity is about much more than visual art. Aging should be recognized as a time of great creative potential, whether through music, poetry, storytelling, dance and movement, or even gardening — the sky is truly the limit.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be.

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Headed to a potluck or party where additional dishes are welcome? Bring something healthy to help you and others age and eat well.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

While we’re all likely enjoying more time at restaurants, outdoor gatherings, wedding receptions and birthday parties, we may suddenly gain some extra pounds with all of these added festivities!

This can be particularly true for those age 60 and better, who may gain weight more quickly due to natural changes in metabolism and hormones. Of course, you can try to burn off those extra calories with exercise — but it’s also good to practice moderation in the first place.

Here are some tips to help party-goers of all ages avoid the gain and still have fun:

  • If you’re an evening exerciser, try moving your workouts to the mornings, that way get-togethers don’t interrupt your exercise routine.
  • Don’t go to a party hungry! You’ll have more will power if you eat a healthy, filling snack before you leave. Try an apple with peanut butter, or Greek yogurt mixed with fruit.
  • If you’re heading to a potluck or party where additional dishes are welcome, bring something healthy, like a veggies and dip platter. That way you’ll have at least one nutritious choice.
  • When you arrive at an event, discreetly scope out the food options before you start nibbling. Choose the healthiest options and decide which treats you must have — then skip the rest.
  • Have a piece of sugarless gum or a mint ready for when you’ve eaten all you think you should.
  • Throw your own party where you can control what’s served. Include healthy options for drinks as well as dining.
  • When drinking, stick with wine, sparkling wine, or beer. You’ll avoid high-calorie mixers in many cocktails — including soda water, tonic, and juices.
  • Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of still or sparkling water. This will help keep you hydrated and sober, and save calories for the goodies at the buffet!
  • Be aware of how many calories (and how much alcohol) is in your glass. Depending on the generosity of your bartender, your glass of wine may hold more than a standard serving (5 ounces).

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a Life Plan Community where residents will have countless culinary options at their fingertips through modern, high-end kitchens in apartment homes and multiple restaurants onsite.

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Aging Well

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia. You can take specific steps to improve your perceptions on aging, which in turn can bolster your health, according to Mather Institute.

How do you feel about your age?

Your response can have consequences for your health and happiness. That’s because studies have shown that our perceptions of aging can have an impact on our own current and future well-being.

“There is a large body of research that shows positive perceptions of aging — seeing later years as a time of continued growth and enjoyment — is associated with better health and stronger relationships later in life. In other words, our expectations of aging impact our behavior and our future outcomes,” says Jennifer Smith, PhD, director of research at Mather Institute. The Institute is the research arm of Mather, the parent organization of The Mather, a Life Plan Community coming to Tysons. The Institute is an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living and successful aging service innovations.

As part of its own research, the Institute referenced proven benefits of having a positive perception of aging:

  • Longevity: In a 23-year study, older adults who reported more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with more negative self-perceptions of aging.
  • Illness: In a study of 1,286 people (average age of 57), those who indicated that aging is a time of continued learning and development reported decreases (or slower increases) in physical illnesses six years later.
  • Functional Health: Older adults with more positive perceptions of aging report better future functional health, such as the ability to do household chores and climb stairs, compared to those with more negative perceptions of aging. 
  • Brain Health: Compared to people with more positive views of aging, people who endorsed more negative age stereotypes displayed greater signs of risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease when their brains were examined decades later. 
  • Psychological Well-Being: Older adults with more negative perceptions of aging reported greater increases in depressive symptoms three years later, but high levels of optimism helped protect against this effect.
  • Healthy Behaviors: Those with more positive perceptions of aging tend to engage in more preventive health behaviors and physical activity compared to those with more negative perceptions of aging.

Change Your Views

The good news is that, even if you’re not feeling very positive about aging, you can take steps to change your attitude and enjoy the health benefits above. All it takes is consciously focusing on appreciating positive experiences. Dr. Smith led a study in collaboration with Loyola University Chicago that revealed that people who took steps to savor their life lessons — reflecting on events in their past that led to knowledge that they wouldn’t want to give up — specifically “grew” their positive perceptions of aging.

You can try this on your own. Research has shown that practicing savoring, or increasing awareness, intensity, and duration of positive feelings, can boost your happiness and life satisfaction. Focusing this practice on positive reminiscence can affect perceptions of aging specifically.

To savor your life lessons, make time to reflect on a meaningful past experience, then write down what you learned from it. Take time to consider the wisdom you obtained, then identify how that wisdom has had a positive impact on your life. Repeat this exercise with other experiences from any time in your life. You can also tell family members or friends about some of your valuable life lessons, which is another means of savoring.

These research findings confirm that Aging Well can depend on your outlook — and luckily, each of us has the opportunity to control and change our perceptions and attitudes.

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