We’re bombarded with images of youth, promises of youth, and suggestions that once youth is gone our value as a human being declines. And the internet is responsible for a lot of that bombardment.
Perhaps “eternal youth” really isn’t a thing, but when we understand what it takes to keep us younger longer, we start to realize that the internet can be our friend, even our guide, in some unexpected ways.
Some internet-based aides to staying young are obvious, so we won’t spend much time on them. Online fitness programs, diet and nutrition information, and articles on news sites and blogs (like this one) abound online.
Would it surprise you to know that exercise and nutrition aren’t really the most important factors in staying young?
That’s right. It’s not that exercise and nutrition aren’t important, but by themselves they won’t prevent aging. In fact, the most important weapon you have against getting old is actually the complex communication system that manages everything you do and everything you experience – your nervous system.
Holding “old age” at bay is about more than physical fitness or even mental acuity. It’s about our emotional health, our ability to recover quickly from illness or injury, and how easily we incorporate new stimuli and information into our understanding of our selves and the world around us. A truly youthful person may have stronger bones and fewer wrinkles, but they also have a more resilient spirit and flexible mind.
Let’s say right now you are most concerned about physical health and appearance. What does the nervous system have to do with that?
Think of your nervous system as part of a very complex computer.
All communication takes place through the “wiring” of this system and the “terminals” that process that information and control how your mind and body respond to that information are also part of this system. That means that everything you think, do, feel, or otherwise, experience is processed through this system and has the potential to affect this system. It also means that what gets programmed into this system becomes your preferred default and pretty much controls everything you do and how you do it unless you’re putting an effort into doing it differently. That’s where the saying “what fires together wires together” comes from, and changing up that firing pattern is the real key to a youthful mind, face, and body.
Here’s why. Let’s say you’ve been under a lot of stress and your neuroprogramming has been “wired” as a response to that stress. Even if that stress is removed, that programming can keep your posture hunched forward, your facial expression tense, and your muscles and hormones primed for a fight or flight response. That posture and facial expression don’t give you a youthful appearance, do they? And muscles can fatigue from stress or hormonal overload just as much as they can from overuse, which can cause premature aging as well.
And if you’re active, whether you participate in a sport or a regular exercise regimen, your nervous system can determine how well your body performs, how long you’ll be able to keep performing, and whether or not you experience injuries as a result of your physical activity.
Because when we repeat movements in daily life or athletic endeavors we’re burning those movement patterns into our nervous system.
Which makes for highly efficient movement, but also starts to burn out the body parts required for the movement that has now been programmed as the preferred way to move.
Our neurological system not only contributes to posture, expression, and movement, it’s also responsible for how we think and feel. So just by “exercising” this system you can improve your appearance, your physical performance, your cognitive abilities, and your emotional well-being. Pretty powerful, huh?
So where does the internet come into the equation? Since 73 percent of households in the U.S. have access to home internet service it’s the most readily available portal to a variety of tools that can improve neuroplasticity, which is what we call the process of freeing up all that “wiring” that can keep you stuck in patterns that age the mind and body. I think of these tools as being in three categories – Variability, Sociability, and Adaptability.
Let’s start with variability. These tools utilize the body-brain communication system to ignite and activate neuropathways that have been neglected or even create new neuropathways. That means you’re going to use these tools to shake up routines, use your body differently than you usually do, and send new information to your brain.
You may know that doing something new like yoga or belly dancing is good for your body, but did you know that new movement patterns are good for keeping your brain young too? Studies show that taking up a new musical instrument, for instance, can not only create new connections in the nervous system but can actually result in something called neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons in the brain. Video is the most effective tool for experimenting with new movement, but online streaming can be frustrating if you don’t have access to high-speed internet. If that is the case, you can still benefit from instructional articles or search for community classes that are affordable or even free.
If there is anything you’ve always wanted to try, this is your incentive – doing something new can help keep you young. Search for terms like “beginner at home yoga” or “belly dance for beginners” or “best drum for a beginner” to get ideas for ways to move your body and engage your mind to start rewiring your nervous system.
The importance of sociability may come as a surprise, but there is a multitude of studies that suggest that isolation is linked to age or age-related illness and dysfunction. Tying activities designed to keep you youthful into healthy social interaction means your routine does double duty for you. Not only will the group keep you motivated and accountable, but the support of a community has been shown to be key to making effective and lasting lifestyle changes. You will benefit from having help and encouragement from the group, but also from being able to offer your encouragement to others.
Consistently repeating new movements is one of the keys to successfully dismantling old “wiring” and introducing new firing patterns into the brain. Engaging in new activities with a group excites the neurological system in several ways. First, it makes trying new things more fulfilling and fun so you’re more likely to enjoy them and keep doing them. Plus, we know when you share your goals and aspirations with others they become more real and more urgent for you to pursue.
So jump online and search for groups, forums, and meetups that you can check out. Look for groups where the members participate in activities you’re interested in, or where they share your goals and challenges. You can benefit from being part of groups where everyone is at the same level of learning and experience, and also from groups where some members are more advanced and able to offer advice and guidance.
The level of adaptability of your mind and body will determine your ability to respond to stress and trauma. This affects how well you avoid injury or illness, and how quickly you bounce back from duress. Tools that increase your adaptability are ones that engage vision, reflexes, mindfulness, focus, and outlook.
There are many online games and challenges that you can play to wake up the brain, but remember it’s all about adapting to new stimuli so getting addicted to “Candy Crush” or “Words With Friends” won’t do the trick. Meditation practice is also good mental training for adaptability and there are many meditation guides available online.
But the brain can only learn so much when the body isn’t moving, so look for opportunities to combine mindfulness with new visual stimuli, or combine focus with engaging the reflexes. Do a search for walking meditation, or parks or hiking trails you’ve never visited. Try walking where you would usually ride a bike, or borrow or rent a bike and try riding where you usually walk.
Finally don’t neglect practicing a positive outlook. A youthful attitude and outlook is possibly the most important factor in whether or not any of these other tools work for you, and the internet is a vast repository for uplifting stories and motivating memes.
“It’s never too early or too late to take control of the aging process.”
I know it’s natural to be anxious about getting old, regardless of your current chronological age. But due in part to the proliferation of internet access, never in our history have we had such a wealth of information and resources readily available to us to help us stay young.