Good nutrition, physical activity, and sharp minds are all central to the Balanced Care Method™. So is maintaining social ties, seeking calmness, and having a sense of purpose in life. Based on the habits and lifestyle of the elders of Okinawa, the Balanced Care Method incorporates the components of their remarkable life spans and health and strives for a low stress, socially rich, spiritual, and purposeful life.
The islands of Okinawa traditionally follow a relaxed pace, with slower rhythms and fewer "on the clock" commitments than are common in so many other modern societies. Being hurried, being constantly worried, or being in a state of constant stress are not part of the Okinawan elders' lifestyle, which protects them from the negative physiological consequences of psychological stress: rapid heartbeat, frequent contraction and dilation of blood vessels, digestive problems, and overworked glands. Since their immune systems aren't constantly being asked to fight stress created from being late or over-worked, they can focus on their real job: fighting disease. Of course, their healthful diet and regular exercise also help keep excess stress at bay.
Spirituality infuses all aspects of the Okinawan lifestyle. The dominant spirituality in Okinawa combines the nature-revering aspects of Taoism with the communal respect emphasized by Confucianism, and a native spirituality that celebrates women as connectors between present and past and reveres elders. It is a point of view that sees all people as good and emphasizes the importance of responsibility to and of individuals and groups.
It is also a worldview that easily unites past values with present realities, ancient Eastern healing philosophies with Western-style medicine. Their spirituality offers Okinawan elders stress relief – well, actual protection from experiencing stress in the first place, which is even better – as well as a sense of social connection, better life satisfaction and sense of purpose, not to mention a respected, important role in their community. Within this worldview of mutual support – helping your neighbor, caring for family, watching out for friends – are all part of daily life. Social networks on Okinawa help elders there live independently because help is nearby for everyone and social support is part of every stage of life. Hobbies, social visits, and group activities are similarly facilitated.
A great stress-buster is meditation. Meditation, the practice of using deep breathing to clear your mind, can be practiced by members of any age group and has potential health benefits for all. Meditation involves deep, even breathing and the pursuit of clearing the mind by focusing on the breath and body or, in some cases, a mantra, which is one calming or inspirational thought repeated over and over.
It doesn’t take years, or even months, to train yourself to meditate in order to appreciate the benefits of meditation, although the ability to focus and completely clear the mind will increase with practice. And not only does meditation provide relaxation and relief from day-to-day stress and worry, it can also provide physiological benefits as well.
Here are a number of the physical and mental benefits of meditation:
- Increases Concentration. With habitual meditation, we are able to concentrate and focus on ideas more easily. This cognitive boost can help the brains of older adults stay engaged and sharp longer.
- Alleviates Stress. Many older adults experience severe stress due to disability, chronic illness, or the loss of a spouse. After a meditation practice has begun, many individuals enjoy reduced overall stress levels.
- Enhances Memory. Meditation can invigorate the hippocampus and the frontal lobes of the brain. These are the areas where both short and long term memory are stored, and by engaging these areas, an older person may be able to improve their ability to store new and old memories.
- Controls Chronic Pain. Meditation can aide in diminishing pain by triggering the thalamus and the brain stem, the areas in the brain where pain is processed.
- Reduces Depression. The prefrontal cortex brain region is the area of the brain where feelings of contentment live. By activating this area with meditation, older people, who may be experiencing depression can clear their minds of negative ideas and substitute them with more joyous thoughts and feelings.
- Improves Digestion. The deep breathing performed in meditation can enrich blood circulation and oxygen content. This enriched blood is sent to all body organs, as well as the stomach and intestines. Aging adults who have integrated meditation may notice digestion improvements.
- Lessens Sleep Disturbances. A report from the University of Southern California discovered that those with sleep issues who practiced mindfulness meditation began to sleep better and more soundly within several weeks, compared to other test subjects who were provided with predictable examples of helpful sleep practices.
By practicing mindfulness, older adults can take control of their thoughts and feelings, and are able to create inspired feelings of peace and well-being while connecting with their inner selves. Start practicing meditation by setting aside 10 to 15 minutes daily to de-stress and practice deep breathing, and you’ll see positive results within a few weeks.
The individual attention of the Balanced Care Method makes it possible to have clients enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis. Fresh air, time in nature, sitting and enjoying a pretty view: These are all extraordinarily calming and stress-relieving for people of all ages and are particularly effective as people get older and lose their physical and mental ability to relieve stress in other ways. Individual attention also makes it possible for seniors to continue to attend places of worship, clubs, and other groups if they are physical able. This benefit echoes the social and connecting communal practices of the Okinawan elders.
The Balanced Care Method is as much a way of seeing aging and understanding it as a part of a whole life, rich and meaningful at every stage, as it is a particular set of practices. Each element – fostering independence, encouraging the maintenance of social ties, remaining active – supports and reinforces the others. Our caregivers at Home Care Assistance Prescott are trained in the Balanced Care Method and are here to support you or a loved one. Contact us today and see how we can help!