Staying active, with regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training, is a time-tested strategy for aging well. But newer studies have shown that activities that use both physical and mental exertion are most beneficial in helping adults age in their best possible health while achieving an overall sense of well-being.
A recent New York Times report focuses on the studied benefits of practicing a specific style of ancient Greek karate, Pankration, which requires strength, balance, flexibility and most importantly, mental discipline. By practicing martial arts, not only is the body strengthened, students achieve a greater sense of self esteem which helps seniors in particular believe in their continued ability to remain physically, socially and intellectually challenged, even in very old age.
Along with a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil and fish, regular exercise that demands a certain level of cognitive control has been found to help older adults age better. Daily activity has also been linked with a reduction in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life.
If Greek karate isn’t your thing, or it’s not available where you live, other martial arts like Tai Chi, Jiu-Jitsu or Wing Chun Kung Fu are also good options for older adults. These practices not only engage the body in low-impact aerobic activity, these forms of martial arts also build on the mind/body connection that can help empower older adults.
Always talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program and start out slowly, gradually increasing the level of difficulty and duration over time. Check with local community centers, retirement communities, the YMCA, or an older persons’ commission near you for available programs.