Emotional and Mental Vitality
Emotional and mental
vitality are closely tied to physical vitality—just as your mind has powerful
effects on your body, so your physical state affects how you feel and think.
Social contact can also make a big difference in how you feel.
Replacing a "lost" activity is a key to staying active and feeling good
about yourself. For instance, if you can no longer run, you might try walking,
biking, and/or swimming. And if your favorite activity was dancing, you might
try something else that combines social and physical activity, such as joining
a water aerobics class. Replacing lost activities can help you keep a positive
attitude and sense of well-being over time, even if aging and changes in your
health mean you can not do all the things you used to do.
Protect or improve your emotional and
cognitive health with regular physical activity. While
physical activity produces chemicals in the body that promote emotional
well-being, inactivity can make
stress worse. Research has been done to link physical activity and the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Adults who are physically active may be less likely to get Alzheimer's disease or dementia than adults who are not physically active.2
Social activity. Protect or improve your emotional
health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the greater community.
Whether physically healthy or ill, people who feel connected to others are more
likely to thrive than those who are socially isolated. Volunteering in your community and sharing your wisdom and
talents with others is a gratifying and meaningful way to enrich your life.
Mental activity. Protect
or improve your memory and mental sharpness by:
- Challenging your intellect on a daily basis.
Read, learn a new musical instrument or language, do crossword puzzles, or play
games of strategy with others. Just like an active body, an active brain
continues to develop and thrive, while an inactive brain loses its power over
- Helping your memory along. Write down dates, names, and
other important information that you easily forget. Use routine and repetition.
For example, keep daily items such as keys and eyeglasses in a specific place.
And when you meet someone new, picture that person while you repeat his or her name out loud to others or to
yourself several times to commit it to memory. (No matter what your age, having
too much on your mind can keep you from remembering new information. And as
you age, it is normal to take longer to retrieve new information from your
- Preventing depression, which is a common yet treatable cause of
cognitive decline in older people. In addition to getting regular physical
activity and social contact, avoid the depressant effect of alcohol and
sedative use, eat healthy meals and snacks, and include meaningful activity in
your daily life (such as learning, creating, working, volunteering). If you
think you have depression, seek professional help—antidepressant medicine
or counseling or both are effective treatments for depression. For more
information, see the topic
Depression. If you find that a physical condition or
disability is making your depressed mood worse, get the medical treatment you
- Not smoking. Cigarette smoking may speed mental decline. This
connection was identified in a large study comparing smokers and
nonsmokers age 65 and over.3 If you smoke and would
like to stop, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Too much life stress can take a toll on your body, your
mind, and the people who are closest to you. In addition to getting regular
physical activity, you can take charge of how stress affects you by taking 20
minutes a day for relaxation time.
- Meditation focuses your attention and helps calm both
mind and body. Daily meditation is used for managing a spectrum of physical and
emotional conditions, including
high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and
- The body responds to stress
with muscle tension, which can cause pain or discomfort.
Progressive muscle relaxation reduces muscle tension
and general anxiety and may help you get to sleep.
- The way you
breathe affects your whole body. Try
breathing exercises for relaxation. Full, deep
breathing is a good way to reduce tension, feel relaxed, and reduce stress.
For more information about reducing stress, see the topic Stress Management.
Positive thinking. Positive thinking
may help you live a longer, happier life. Even if you tend to be an
optimist, there are times when it takes extra effort to frame your life
positively. Take the following steps to harness the power of positive thinking
in your daily life.
- Create positive expectations of yourself, your
health, and life in general. When you catch yourself using negative self-talk
or predicting a bad outcome, stop. Reframe your thought into a positive one,
and speak it out loud or write it down. This type of thinking can help you best
recover from surgery, cancer, and other life crises.
- Open yourself
to humor, friendship, and love. Go out of your way to find reasons to laugh and
to spend time with people you enjoy.
- Appeal to a higher power, if
it suits you. Whether it be through your faith in a loving, all-powerful God or
your connection with nature or a collective unconscious, your sense of
spiritual wellness can help you through personal trials and enhance your joy in
living. For more information, see the topic Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking.
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
May 29, 2012
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