Are you getting old or aging naturally? Time you knew the difference

TenganAge3As soon as you open your eyes, you know you’re in trouble.

Feeling as if gravity is cranked up on high, you cautiously roll out of bed and swear that your joints are three times older than when you went to sleep.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, we’ve all been there. As we age, we start to notice some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) changes in strength, flexibility, balance, and overall functioning. The question to ask is how much of this is part of the natural aging process, and how much is something you have control over?

To start to answer that question it’s important to differentiate between aging and getting old. (Trust me, there really is a difference.)

Aging is the natural biological processes of decay that lead to a steady decrease in overall functioning, irrespective of what we do. Getting old, on the other hand, is self-inflicted and is a direct result of inactivity.

So, for example, natural aging includes:

• loss of bone mineral density
• decreased muscle tissue
• increased decay of nerves
• decreased cardiovascular functioning

Meanwhile, getting old, might mean:

• increased occurrence of injury
• decreased muscular strength
• loss of reactivity
• increased cardiovascular stress

TenganAge2Most adults have sedentary lifestyles, and daily inactivity puts stress on the body. That stress adds up, and can manifest as loss of function (strength, endurance, cardiovascular health, and so on), and as conditions, such as lower back pain, frozen shoulder, or sciatica.

Put simply, inactivity speeds up the natural process of aging.

There is hope, though. When you realize that getting old is a choice, you have options. You can commit yourself to exercising regularly, and looking for small opportunities to keep active.

Here are few small things you can do to add activity to your day:

1. Transition to a standing work/computer station.

2. Walk to work/store/restaurants rather than drive.

3. Join or create a walking/running/work out group and get your body moving.

4. Use the stairs rather than an elevator/escalator.

5. If you have to sit, take standing/stretching/walking breaks every hour.

The goal is to make those active lifestyle decisions every day and to be consistent with them. By exercising (sorry!) an ounce prevention, you’ll be able to age naturally, not get old.

MikeTenganMichael Tengan is owner and a certified personal trainer at Prime Fitness and executive director of Sweet Annie, an organization committed to championing a healthier lifestyle for Hawaii’s communities. Sweet Annie focuses on food access, health education and lifestyle changes. Tengan grew up on Maui, more comfortable with plate lunches and mac salad than quinoa and legumes. His journey toward living a healthy lifestyle was a long one, and involved breaking the bad habits he learned as a kid.


  • Getting old is a mental thing, too.

    I had a great-uncle who outlived 2 wives (his 3rd outlived him by about 10 years). He was never mentally old; he was always interested in new things, in playing (I was young when he was alive) and anything funny. He finally died of aging, but he was never old!

    I have another well-aged relative, the eldest of 8 siblings. He’s the last of them alive. He’s in his 90s. He’s still a busy public notary, loves to laugh, loves people of all ages.

    The church band I play in has a conga player. He used to play drums professionally for musicians such as Elvis Presley. He has Parkinson’s, gets around with a walker now. But every time he plays with us (when he’s not attending a UH football game!), his joy at playing makes everyone feel better.

    He lives with his younger brother (62) and their 90+year old mother. She has all her faculties and comes each Sunday and always has a big happy smile for everyone.

    Their mental choice to not be old, but active and involved in life, is awesome.


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