Aging Well & Aging Well After Cancer: 5 Principles from our Elders

Aging well. We see information on how to optimize our aging bodies on a daily basis. Food choices that may help us to age more gracefully, extending our functionality for more and more years. We are told to participate in physical activity and strength training, socialization, activities that keep our brains engaged and the importance of decreasing stress. Supplements to consider. The information at times bombards us! Sometimes the information is confusing. Sometimes encouraged and discussed by our health care providers, or at least when we reach a certain age!

And if you have been through cancer, your hopes are for seeing years, and years, and more years forward… for reaching “old age”. You “fought” hard to make it through the treatment with the idea of being able to grow older, and you are older.

Years ago, when I was working with a team of great people starting a survivorship program, we struggled with how and when to deliver information about long term effects and late effects of cancer treatment. Timing is still challenging! There is so much to deal with during treatment and after treatment. The information can be overwhelming. No doubt, some of the more challenging experiences of side effects and late effects can dominate one’s sense of health and well-being.

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If you have read any of my previous blog posts, or if this is your first time – I am passionate about how best to heal from the challenges of cancer, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. There is so much that might be helpful that is not usually presented and discussed by one’s health care team. I am also passionate that every individual has the right to make choices about how they want to optimize their life and their health after cancer. There are many areas in which one can make choices to optimize health after cancer and after treatment for cancer. One of those areas is Aging Well After Cancer. Research indicates that indeed cancer has aged you. “Ha!” you are probably saying, “Don’t I know”!

A recent study, "Biology of premature ageing in survivors of cancer," acknowledged that cancer therapies effect “the hallmark” of aging and long term comorbidities (for example physical issues like cardiac health, kidney health, bone health) mimic aging. The authors (Cupit-Link M, Kirkland JL, Ness KK, Armstrong GT, Tchkonia T, LeBrasseur NK, Armenian SH, Ruddy KJ and Hasmi SK) also call for more support and research on prevention strategies…. YES!

Do we check inflammatory markers after treatment? Do we recommend and outline a path after treatment on important health practices that focus on living healthfully and aging well? If you have had this discussion with your health care team, please let me know!

The way forward will call for advocacy and research…. but also “common sense” about lifestyles choices. Fortunately, more information about nourishing nutritional choices are available. Maybe not “the prescription” of your oncology team but we know that choosing foods that are colorful, plant based and not processed are the healthiest.

I wish that routine “surveillance” included some physiological testing to determine how stressed your body is after cancer treatment. I wish that your health care professionals talked with you a lot more about healing from cancer and referred you to people who would support you in doing that. I wish that we did more research on beneficial health practices, nutritional choices and supplements that might be restorative to your body and mind after cancer. AND that your health care team discussed these with you. What might you do to restore your health and age well? Let’s find out.

“Give yourself permission to live a big life. Step into who you are meant to be. Because you are meant for greater things. The greatest splendor of life is that it keeps you eternally engaged, searching, exploring. Life is exploration. Life is adventure. The mystery never ends.”  
- Osho

If you would like a personalized discussion on how to incorporate healthy practices and aging well into your life, please contact me.  What we know about aging well starts at any age and includes:

  1. Physical activity: move, walk, dance, garden, run, swim, yoga, do chores around the house, keep your body active. 
  2. Nourishing nutritional choices: think "plants and not too much”, real foods, things that grow and what is usually found on the perimeter of your grocery store
  3. Manage your chronic health concerns: such as stress, blood pressure, weight, mood concerns like depression and anxiety, pain and inflammation.
  4. Enhance your sense of belonging: we all benefit from a sense of belonging and a sense of community, with family, with friends, with the pursuit of our interests and curiosity, with pets, find a sense of purpose and pursue it. This is actually one of the most powerful predictors of aging well. 
  5. Take time to “down shift”: some practice gratitude, some attend spiritual and religious services, some take walks in nature, some meditate, some take the time to create. Take time to practice being in the present moment and to benefit from what is in your life now, and to reflect on what you need for life to feel full.

Each of these areas demonstrates benefits in keeping our bodies and minds healthy. Start where you are. Consider taking some time to reflect in each of the categories above. Do a check in and consider taking the next step toward what you want to do differently. Know that sometimes getting a friend or partner, counselor or coach, or participating in a structured program can be of great help! Consider checking into your local YMCA to see if they have a LIVESTRONG™ program.

Wishing you all the wisdom and joy that life can offer and the start of a wonderful, connected and curious year ahead!

With love,
Liz