It’s suddenly December and as we head into the long, cold winter months, it’s important to have a game plan to stay active. While many older adults may feel like hibernating when snow and ice hinder outdoor plans, regular physical activity, along with a healthy diet, are essential for greater longevity and a slowing of the aging process. The Active Grandparent Hypothesis speaks to this point as it builds on the anthropological ‘grandmother hypotheses.’
For decades scientists have been exploring how exercise contributes to a lower risk for chronic health conditions as well as prolonging life. According to a recent article in Harvard Magazine, physically active grandparents provide valuable help to their adult children and grandchildren. Many seniors contribute to their extended family by assisting with meal preparation, caring for children, and during the pandemic – helping with online learning.
Because older adults are so helpful to subsequent generations, it is suggested by researchers that humans have evolved to live long past their reproductive and child-rearing years. With natural selection favoring longevity, useful, active grandparents over time passed on these genes to more children and grandchildren. It is also postulated that physical activity may trigger repair within the body, helping to slow aging and prolong life.
Staying physically active is more important as we age and because we have such easy access to food and other essentials, older adults must make a concerted effort to exercise. The physical stress that results from vigorous activity causes triggers repair and maintenance mechanisms within the body, helping keep systems in good working order. Exercise also tamps down damaging inflammation and lowers blood sugar.
So, by actively engaging with grandchildren, not only are older adults helping the next generation thrive by sharing knowledge and labor, but seniors are also keeping themselves mobile and independent longer. Loss of physical and cognitive function can be slowed, and even somewhat reversed with changes in lifestyle that reduce stress, improve diet and increase physical activity.
As the winter settles in, why not join the kids outside to build a snow fort or bundle up and take the grandbaby for a sled ride around the neighborhood? Of course, it’s important to wear the proper outerwear and boots, but spending time outdoors and moving more will help boost mood, improve sleep and prevent loss of fitness or weight gain. When the weather prevents outdoor activities, mall walking, treadmills and stationary bikes are good alternatives. Finding an activity you enjoy, and pitching in with the grandkids, will help older adults stay healthy longer and forge a closer relationship with their families.
Learn more about the aging benefits of exercise by following this link to read an excerpt of a new book by Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University – Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved To Do Is Healthy And Rewarding.
As always, talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Begin slowly – just 10 minutes of activity a day can make a difference to health and longevity. Over time, increase intensity and duration; and choose something fun that you will stick with like dancing, hiking with the grandkids, or playing Pickleball.