A few years back we welcomed a new puppy into our home. She is a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback named Zola. When she first came to live with us, she weighed less than 10 lbs. Now she tips the scales around 75 lbs. Anticipating the possible destruction such a large and active dog could generate in our small home we focused generous attention and structure around her in order to establish the proper behaviors to make our lives easier as Zola grew. We included our children in these activities so that the entire family could interact with Zola and benefit from the passion that this new family member inspired with her cute little puppy face. Zola provoked an entirely new level of engagement and activity in our home. This was beneficial for our entire family. Because of Zola we spend more time outside. We regularly take walks at the park and play with Zola multiple times a day in and outside of the house. As Zola grew larger we increased the duration of our excursions, hiking in the woods, and visiting the local dog friendly parks.
Find your Passion
This puppy was a new family passion. Passions are vital for inspiring action and keeping individuals healthy and feeling young as we age. Research studies have shown that benefits from having a cat or dog at home can include decreased blood pressure, reduced triglycerides, an increase in personal physical activity, and an overall improvement in emotional stress levels. (Jackson K. A pet in your life keeps the doctor away.Medical News Today. September 30, 2009.www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165580.php. and Health benefits of pets. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.www.cdc.gov/Healthypets/health_benefits.htm.)I am not saying that to be healthy and live a long life you should go out and get a new pet for your home. What I am suggesting is that as we age we should continue to have things in our lives that spark a fire in our soul and propel us out of the house and into an active and engaging life. I think it is important to distinguish activities related to work with those that are connected to our passions. Too often in our society it is our work that is the sole motivator for moving out of the house in the morning. When there is a passion present, life can take on an entirely new vibrancy.
A health and longevity passion can be a hobby or pastime as long as it encourages physical activity. It need not be as vigorous as exercising with a pet, although it should require more effort than simply sitting on the couch. As much as I love sitting down and watching a good movie, it doesn’t qualify as a passion for healthy aging. So what types of passions have been associated with healthy aging? The choices we have today for activities are nearly endless. There are team sports, individual sports, leagues both competitive and recreational. I had a patient in my medical practice in Boston that was in a curling league with her husband.
We can participate in activities that have slightly more physical impact, think tennis and soccer; and activities that have almost no burden on the physical body, think swimming and water aerobics. Some activities require considerably more money to participate, think golf; others cost nothing at all, such as a walking club that meets at the mall. It is not just the physical activity that is beneficial to health. We also gain from the social interaction with other individuals that are pursuing passions that are favorable for health. It is an opportunity to meet and make new friends while also having a support team to motivate and hold each other accountable. Thanks to the Internet there is easier access for finding other individuals that share a similar passion for whatever it is you enjoy.
It is important to remember that it does not need to be a group or team activity to be beneficial. Solo activities like yoga or bird watching can be incredibly meditative and lower stress levels. It is most important we find something to do that we enjoy and start making it part of our active life.
Consider volunteer opportunities as an option for finding your healthy passion. You may not want the daily responsibility of bringing a new pet into your home, yet feel very excited about walking dogs at the local humane shelter one day a week. There are also many opportunities to be an active volunteer at businesses and not-for-profit establishments in town. My wife Robin gives time at a local hospital cleaning and reorganizing the visitor suites for families that need to stay in town while a loved one receives care. It isn’t as physically demanding as our group workouts at boot camp, yet it does stimulate her mind and body while providing a valuable service to the families.
As we age it is important to distinguish between our chronological age and our health age. It is one thing to be 60 years old and feel 45; and a totally different experience to be 60 and feel 75. Embracing your own unique passions and pursuing them with your whole mind, body, and spirit is an important way to keep the mind, body, and spirit young and vital. Go out, go online, and go discover or rediscover your passions today. As for me, I’m heading out right now to take Zola for a walk. ~Dr. Swanz
Dr. Swanz was awarded the prestigious Daphne Blayden award for his commitment to Naturopathic Medicine, Academic Excellence, Compassion, Perseverance, a Loving Sense of Humor and a Positive, Supportive Outlook by his colleagues and staff at SCNM.
He is a Board Certified Naturopathic Physician with advanced training in classical homeopathy and nutrition. Dr. Swanz is a Fellow of the Homeopathic Association of the Naturopathic Physicians. He currently supports individuals on the journey to health through his Vital Force Naturopathy practice, integrating the best of his conventional and holistic medical training. Dr. Swanz specializes in homeopathy, pediatrics and family medicine. He is passionate about healing and is driven by the desire to see all people be the most healthy individual they can be.