We’ve raised our children, we’re looking ahead to retirement, and our focus has changed. Instead of school activities and the many commitments of a growing family consuming us, we find ourselves with more time to spend on personal pursuits. An often-neglected area in many women’s lives is wellness, a concept that didn’t even enter the minds of most baby boomers who followed in their own mother’s footsteps of raising a family, and then in later years, perhaps influenced by the changing role of women, entered the workforce.
Although there are many new avenues we can explore during this season of our lives, our focus here is on something somewhat nebulous and a bit difficult to define, and that is an over-arching, holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional well-being, or wellness. It is an ever-evolving, conscious effort to make positive choices that enhance our quality of life. Oftentimes the genesis of this journey is the onset of medical problems, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, or more common concerns such as weight gain or fatigue.
Although some of these changes in our lives may involve seeking the services of medical and mental health professionals, we’ve identified 3 areas where women can proactively begin their own self-directed journey toward wellness: regular physical activity, healthy eating habits, and self-care.
Regular Physical Activity
Outdoor activities such as walking, biking or engaging in a sport, along with exercises that increase strength, balance and flexibility like yoga or weight training, help us to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and allow us to continue enjoying an active lifestyle (think keeping up with grandkids). Stress especially can play a large role in declining physical, mental, and emotional health.
Many of us don’t realize that increased fatigue and irritability can be due in part to stress that we’re not even aware of until we take a breath, step back and widen the focus on our lives. A walk outside, even a short one, or a hike out in nature can give us that vital perspective which can help lead to a restorative, more balanced approach to our lives.
Healthy Food Choices
Adopting healthy eating habits does not have to involve a major over-hauling of our diets. The simple act of reducing portion sizes can be a start to weight loss without having to experience the feelings of loss often associated with substantially changing our diets. Instead of filling up a large dinner plate, downsize your plate and then fill it. Voila! Full plate, less food.
Changing what we eat can make a difference in our energy level, mental acuity, and overall health. A simple strategy is to adopt the plate sectioning approach to food choices. Divide your plate into 4 sections and fill two sections with non-starchy vegetables, one with meat or fish and one with starchy foods (assuming that is already a part of your diet). Our last word on food choices – reduce your sugar intake. Not only are sugary foods and drinks empty calories that keep you from obtaining vital nutrients, they can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease.
Lastly, drink more water, lots more. Often feelings of fatigue, stress or “fuzzy brain” are symptoms of dehydration. Body function is enhanced and our skin looks and feels healthier when we stay hydrated. Also, if you experience a vague feeling of hunger but nothing sounds good, reach for the water bottle. Chances are you are thirsty. Keep a refillable bottle with you to remind you to drink as our sense of thirst can decline as we get older.
This area of wellness is the most personal, and therefore the most difficult to define as each of us is an experiment of one. However, for all of us it involves an intentional setting aside of time to nurture ourselves, to practice quieting our minds and allowing ourselves to be present in the moment. This is not just time spent; it is an investment that increases the quality of our lives going forward. It enables us to maintain our resolve, motivation and inner resources to continue to give to others without becoming overwhelmed.
Meditation, the healing touch of massage, a purposeful and intentional experiencing of the beauty around us, a warm bath or sharing a glass of wine with a good friend are are just a few ways of practicing self-care.
Our self-care also involves gaining control over some of the visible changes our bodies undergo as we age. The onset of fine lines and wrinkles or those sun spots (hyperpigmentation) that weren't there last year can feel disconcerting and unavoidable. In this case then, self-care becomes a process of addressing the specific needs that come with our changing skin. This process can begin with your at-home skin care routine. Keep in mind though that as your skin changes so should your skin care products, which may now be too drying and lacking in essential nutrients. Professional services such as nourishing facials and body treatments, along with services designed to improve skin tone both reduce the visible effects of aging skin and offer us a nurturing, feel-good experience.
Finally, be intentional about your self-care activities. Schedule them on your calendar. Otherwise, you may find yourself reacting to the urgent but ultimately not important demands on your time. Making proactive choices based on your core values can be life-changing both for yourself and those who will in turn benefit from a healthier, happier you.