I long ago made it a principle of my life to cultivate a positive frame of mind, to strive to project it and to share it with those I meet. It is a principle that has served me well. In setting this standard, I didn't have to look very far for inspiration. My mother, Wilma Norris Knight, has dealt with countless hardships in her life and many dark clouds hanging above, yet she maintains such a bright outlook on life that she continues to this day to light up every room she enters and to enrich every life she touches. This remarkable, loving and kind woman recently turned 94.
I'm hoping most of us are blessed to know someone like her — someone who pushes through the down side of life with a positive frame of mind while remaining firmly grounded in reality, not with his or her head in the clouds. It seems like such a remarkable feat in today's pressurized world, but what research is showing — and what we need to emulate — is that these individuals have managed to develop and maintain certain stress-relieving behaviors, such as calming rituals that help them cope, create positive emotions and generate better health.
Exercise, prayer and meditation are examples of calming rituals. They have been shown to induce a happier mood and provide a positive pathway through life's daily frustrations. Add to this list a walk in nature.
A walk in nature is a perfect backdrop to combine exercise, prayer and meditation while enhancing the benefit of these activities. It has been proved to supply not only physical benefits but also a mental boost. This was confirmed by a study from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. The findings revealed that outdoor exercise contributes to increased energy and revitalization — along with decreased anger, depression and tension — when compared with indoor exercise. Outdoor participants in the study also enjoyed their workouts more. A separate study conducted by the University of Essex suggests that outdoor workouts also improve self-esteem. It was further demonstrated that outdoor participants were likelier to stay with the fitness program than those who did their exercising indoors.
These findings are especially important for those of us of a certain age. The key to the future in an aging society is not found in increasing just our life span; we need to increase our health span at the same time. But genetics, like diet, seems to be constantly conspiring against us. Take the debilitating effects of osteoarthritis, a condition all of us can expect to face if we live long enough. A quarter of the population has it, and the percentage is expected to rise significantly in the years ahead. It is the most common cause of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65.
The pain of arthritis generally results in a decline in physical activity. When this happens, the risk of developing a chronic health problem, such as heart disease or Type 2 diabetes, goes up and performing the tasks of daily living becomes increasingly difficult.
According to Patricia A. Parmelee, a professor of psychology and the director of the University of Alabama Center for Mental Health & Aging, arthritic pain and disability very often force people to abandon activities they love. "Some stop moving altogether, brood over what they had to give up and become depressed," she says.
In a 10-year Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study of more than 2,000 people with arthritic knees, it was found that less than 10 percent met the national guidelines of doing moderate physical activity for 150 minutes a week. Yet the same study found that those who increased their physical activity functioned better and had less disability.
The bottom line to all this is the inescapable fact that study after study is showing that being more active can delay the functional decline that accompanies aging — that the more sedentary one becomes the greater the loss of function.
In my mom's autobiography, "Acts of Kindness: My Story," she puts it this way: "We stay young in body by eating well and staying fit, but young in mind by not settling for status quo and always pressing onward and upward."
Abraham Lincoln once said it like this: "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
So for those of you who, like me, are 35 with maybe 35 or more years of experience, let me phrase it in terms of a childhood hero of mine, Hopalong Cassidy. He might put it this way: It's time for us to giddyup and giddy-out and soak up life to its fullest while we still can.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.