Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Nice sentiment, but the mahatma didn’t have a smartphone that kept him connected 24/7.
The truth is that today it’s all about speed. Whether we are making a meal, breaking a sweat or even visiting our doctor, life can move so quickly we risk sacrificing effectiveness and enjoyment for efficiency.
The good news: Science (and common sense) shows us that sometimes it’s better to slow down. In fact, we found 11 circumstances for which backing off can make you healthier and happier. So, think about taking it a bit easier the next time you are:
READY TO RISE Finally, a reason to linger in bed. It turns out that when you pop out of the sack quickly, sometimes your over-50 brain and body can’t keep up, increasing the risk of a fall from light-headedness or a stumble due to painful joints or a cramp. YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Stretch in bed. The most effective move is called Thread the Needle, says Joel Harper, author of Mind Your Body: 10 Core Concept for an Optimally Balanced You. It will loosen your outer hips and hamstrings, two areas that get notoriously tighter with age.
~Here’s what to do: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed. Lift your left leg and cross your ankle over the top of your right thigh above the knee. Next, reach under your right thigh and pull gently toward you---feel it? Hold for five deep breaths, Harper says, and stretch each side twice.
BRUSHING UP You’d better watch your mouth. Research shows that inflammation associated with gum trouble is linked to heart issues and dementia, although scientists have not found a direct cause and effect. Your first preventive step? Be sure to control plaque, the sticky white stuff that furs your teeth along the gum line, says Jonathan B. Levine, a New York prosthodontist and oral health care specialist.
YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Take your time. The average American brushes for only 45 seconds instead of the recommended two minutes, and only 15 percent of us make the effort to floss regularly. Try taking your toothbrush into the shower with you; you’ll be more likely to brush longer.
~The act of brushing and flossing physically removes the plaque from the critical space where the gum meets the tooth,” Levine says. “This can’t be rushed, and when we do rush, we press too hard.” Pressing too hard, especially while brushing, strips the gums off the necks of the teeth which makes teeth more sensitive, he says.
LOOKING FOR A BUZZ Natural levels of the stress hormone cortisol peak at about 30 minutes after waking, and caffeine boosts cortisol, so waiting a few hours later—till your levels naturally dip—to have your first cup of coffee will give you a lift when your body needs it.
But don’t skip your caffeine. A small study of older adults, ages 61 to 77, published in the journal
Nutritional Neuroscience, found that the equivalent of two cups of brewed coffee improved both cognitive and perceptual motor skills, helping people more easily navigate a crowd or stay focused on a task. YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Mix ½ to 2 teaspoons of a powdered fiber supplement into an 8-ounce glass of ice water first thing, instead of having coffee. A psyllium-husk-fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or generic psyllium-husk powder, can help lower cholesterol and steady blood sugar – especially important if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic – while aiding digestion and curbing appetite. Also, plan your afternoon caffeine for around2:30 pm, when you’ll experience another cortisol dip.
MOVING MUSCLES Strength training is crucial to healthy aging. It keeps muscles, bones and joints strong, as well as improves balance and helps prevent osteoporosis.
While working quickly in the gym has its benefits, “negative training” – taking longer on the “easy” part of the exercise instead of when pushing or pulling – may be best, says Ellington Darden, a leading expert in negative training and the author of The Body Fat Breakthrough. “It works the entire joint structure, which results in more strength, stability and range of motion,” he notes.
YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Take twice as long lowering weight as you do raising it. For example, if you are performing a squat, take four seconds to lower your body down and two seconds to push it up. Apply the principle when using weight machines or dumbbells, or doing body-weight exercises.
GETTING HEATED The best way to defuse anger? Don’t let it get going in the first place.
That’s a challenge, biologically speaking: When angry, your body pumps out stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which further fuel your rage. If you’re an over-60 male, decreasing testosterone can affect mood, working to make you angrier faster.
YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Call a time-out, then hit reset by going for a walk, listening to soft music or taking a few deep breaths before reengaging, says Elinor Robin, a meditation expert based in Boca Raton, Florida.
“If everybody is willing to slow down, we can trick our basic biology, and then we have a better outcome in the end,” she says.
TWEAKED BY A TWEET The speed of communications is great if you have a flat tire but speed kills when you respond first and ask questions later. And if you’re not familiar with exactly who can see your posts, tweets, and texts, you may end up writing a knee-jerk reply to one confidant, only to discover you’ve accidentally shared it with the world.
These snarky replies – or innocent ones that can be misinterpreted- can poison relationships in ways that are tough to overcome.
“We’re in the midst of a real epidemic of high emotions online. This is true with email, texts, Twitter, Facebook – everywhere,” says researcher Ryan Martin, an associate professor and chair of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. “When you can’t take in to account tone of voice or facial expression, you’re more likely to misunderstand.” YOUR SLOW-DOWN STRATEGY: Reacting too quickly to a perceived slight is an impulse-control problem, Martin says. Instead of replying, simply close the offending message and revisit it later. You may find that you misread the original message or overreacted to the content.
“Even waiting five minutes is better than one minute,” Martin says.
~Printed in the December 2015 / January 2016 AARP Magazine by Ted Spiker