The American Senior Fitness Association presents Experience!

September 3, 2007

Table of Contents
  • Attention SFA Members: (New Contact Information)
  • Whole-Person Wellness for Vital Living: Part Four (Research supports "cheating" the aging process)
  • Arf! Meow! Let's Be Healthy (Pets' links to a sound body and mind)
  • When You Need to Calm Down (Three effective self-soothing strategies)
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Attention SFA Members

SFA LogoThis Labor Day weekend, our phone and communication systems are changing to serve you better.
  • New Toll-Free Number: (888) 689-6791
  • New Information Number: (386) 957-1947
During this process there may be a temporary disruption of service. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

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Whole-Person Wellness for Vital Living: Part Four

New subscribers can read the first three installments of this five-part series on wellness by SFA author Jan Montague, MGS, by clicking on "
Whole-Person Wellness for Vital Living." Below, Ms. Montague describes research suggesting that in many cases whole-person wellness can impede the aging process.

Research shows that for many aging individuals, participation in whole-person wellness programs slows the aging process and promotes independence. In 1987, the MacArthur Foundation's Study of Aging in America provided a new framework for the study of aging and quality of life. Spearheaded by Drs. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, the study was designed to explore the factors responsible for the positive aspects of aging. Its goals were to "move beyond the limited view of chronological age and to clarify the genetic, biomedical, behavioral, and social factors responsible for retaining -- and even enhancing -- people's ability to function in later life."

The MacArthur Foundation donated more than 10 million dollars in support and supplied thousands of older adult participants. During a period of 10 years, the results from dozens of interdisciplinary research projects were examined. The combined data from those studies provided the best evidence that successful aging is not determined by genetic inheritance. Instead, we age successfully by incorporating wellness concepts and beliefs into all aspects of our lives.

Several pertinent conclusions from the MacArthur Foundation's Study of Aging in America involve the following:
  • Mental Function
The ability to maintain a high level of mental function was attributed to: (1) a strong social support system; (2) regular physical activity; (3) education and lifelong intellectual/vocational activities; (4) self-efficacy (a belief in one's ability to handle what life has to offer); (5) social connectedness; and (6) reducing feelings of isolation, whether actual or perceived. The interdisciplinary studies found that isolation was a powerful risk factor for poor health. The more frequently older people participated in social relationships, the better their overall health.
  • Physical Function
Not surprisingly, seniors participating in regular physical exercise and activities experienced better overall health than their contemporaries who did not. Improvements in physical function included: (1) increased strength, endurance, and flexibility; (2) improvements in connection with mood, balance, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon and rectal cancer, diabetes and related problems, arthritis, and osteoporosis; and (3) a reduction in the number of falls.
  • Self-Efficacy
Study participants who approached life with a "Yes, I can!" attitude generally had the best coping skills and highest self-esteem. Self-efficacy can be increased by undertaking a specific action or activity that challenges one's sense of self-sufficiency without overwhelming it. Self-confidence is also bolstered by the presence of supportive and reassuring others or the experience of succeeding at something with confirming feedback from others.

In conclusion, society is beginning to embrace a new perspective -- healthy aging. Today people are more likely to be defined by what they can do, rather than by what they can't do. Seniors are becoming role models for younger cohorts because they are achieving desirable health outcomes by combining whole-person wellness principles with self-responsibility for health.

Current research is showing that the wellness model is not a passing fad. In the coming years, more and more senior living communities and senior service origanizations will adopt wellness as their core philosophy. By choosing wellness, they will set the new standard by promoting successful living. We must continue to focus on prevention, whole-person involvement, and the implementation of programs and services that keep people healthy in mind, body, and spirit throughout their lifespan.

(Be sure to see the next issue of Experience! for the final installment in this five-part series.)


Dog Image
Arf! Meow!
Let's Be Healthy

The authors of Purina's "Newtrition" magazine
want you to know that while you're meeting the needs of your pet, that pet just might be helping you right back (You Scratch My Back..., Issue 1, 2007). Following are some examples they provide that are certain to give you paws -- sorry, pause:
  • In a State University of New York at Buffalo study (publisher Hypertension), Dr. Karen Allen found that pet ownership can help lower one's blood pressure response to mental stress. Appropriately enough, Allen's subjects were stockbrokers taking medication to help control their high blood pressure. Interviewed later by, Allen said that many stockbrokers in her medication-only group adopted pets on their own after learning the study's outcome.
  • Cat at MirrorIn a University of California Study (publisher Pers Social Psychology), Dr. Judith Siegel found a correlation between pet ownership and a reduced need for doctor visits. She monitored 938 Medicare patients for stressful life experiences, psychological well-being, and use of physician services. The 37 percent of her subjects who owned pets had fewer physician contacts -- regardless of age, sex, race, education, employment status, income, social support from others, or the presence of chronic health problems.
  • Two KittensResearchers Cheryl Straede and Richard Gates, conducting a study at Australia's University of New England (publisher Anthrozoos), found a positive relationship between cat ownership and psychological health. Subjects with cats appeared to experience fewer psychiatric disturbances compared to those without cats.
  • As previously reported in the Experience! newsletter, dog ownership encourages regular physical activity, with dog owners generally out-exercising individuals who don't have dogs.
  • Girl with DogPurina experts note that the many tasks involved in responsibly caring for a pet help to stimulate serotonin production which, in turn, helps ward off depression and feelings of loneliness. Pets also promote socialization, especially in terms of meeting new friends. When minor family conflicts arise, pets can lessen the tension through their amusing and charming antics, or merely by being a neutral presence. They even offer opportunities for intergenerational activity. When an older loved one teaches a child to properly feed, water, walk, wash, and brush a pet, the experience is beneficial for all concerned -- with and without fur!

When You Need to Calm Down

In a recent issue of its publication "Ray of Hope,"
Hospice of Volusia-Flagler (Florida) describes three practical exercises that can help not only individuals coping with loss, but also those facing other challenging stress situations in life:

The first is called square breathing. When contending with trauma or loss, people often will hold their breath. It's a subconscious attempt to stay in control, but it actually compounds the stress. Instead, assume a seated position with good posture and find your "sitting bones." Then find your pelvic bones. Next, mentally picture the formation of a cubic square connecting them. Breathe deeply downward into that imaginary square. If you need help to breathe that deeply, try placing your hands on the back of your head.

The second involves summoning memories of a safe place. When loss or distress leads you to feel vulnerable, it may be helpful to envision a place where you have felt safe and protected. If you cannot recall such a time or place, use your imagination to visualize a safe setting where no harm can touch you. Take your time and experience all of the comforting aspects of your safe place: the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. Breathe in the sense of safety and let it fill you.

The third is called 3-2-1. Hospice recommends performing it to help bring yourself back into the here-and-now at times when your mind is racing, you cannot banish certain troubling thoughts, or you feel overwhelmed with emotion. Proceed in this order:
  • Name 3 things in the room above eye level.
  • Name 3 sounds you hear.
  • Touch and describe 3 different textures around you.
  • Name 2 new things in the room above eye level.
  • Name 2 new sounds.
  • Touch and describe 2 new textures.
  • Name 1 new thing above eye level.
  • Name 1 new sound.
  • Touch and describe 1 new texture.
Two valuable characteristics of the activities related above are that they're simple to learn and easy to remember. By taking a moment to familiarize yourself with them now, you should be able to call them to mind if there comes a time when you need to calm yourself or relieve the intensity of an emotion you are experiencing.


Experience! readers:
Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.

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