Aging Well in Every Dimension

March 15, 2016

Aging Well in Every DimensionAt 93, Kurt Strauss is a poster child for aging well and doing so by engaging in what the International Council on Active Aging calls the “7 Dimensions of Wellness.”

The 7 Dimensions of Wellness is a holistic model that integrates physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Wellness is commonly viewed as having seven dimensions   ̶  physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, occupational and emotional. Each dimension contributes to one’s sense of wellness or quality of life and each affects the other.

The Oaks of Louisiana, where Strauss has lived for 3½ years, embraces the 7 Dimensions model and provides residents a quality way of living where they thrive and live happier and healthier. People today are living longer and want to be independent for as long as they can. The Oaks of Louisiana lifestyle helps them do that.

Strauss certainly is testament to that.

He and wife Lynn moved to The Oaks in February 2012 at the gentle prodding of daughter Vona Weiss, of Shreveport. The couple, married 50 years, had lived in Tucson, Ariz., for 45 years before moving here. One year later, Lynn Strauss lost her battle with lung cancer.

Strauss continues on.

He engages  in a variety of activities, pursuits and practices to maintain physical, mental and spiritual health, confident his wife would be proud of him and cheer him on with a “Keep it up!”

Physical well-being

On any given day, Strauss can be found at the Spa & Wellness Center, an impressive natatorium that features a refreshing and healthful saltwater pool, and state-of-the-art hydraulic fitness and cardio equipment designed for older adults.

A native of Germany, Strauss takes almost every exercise class we offer, says Holly Winterrowd, manager/senior wellness coordinator for The Oaks of Louisiana and group exercise coordinator for Willis-Knighton Fitness and Wellness Centers.

Water aerobics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Total Body on Tuesday and Thursday. Walking around Lake Eleanor in the evening. Occasional workouts on the LifeTrail outdoor wellness system.

“I do it to stay alive,” Strauss says with a laugh, when asked why, at an age when many have slowed down, he continues to push himself to fatigue.

“Actually I do get tired and I’m tired for most of it, but I want to stay well mentally and physically,” he says about his workouts.

Says Winterrowd: “Senior adults especially need to exercise. It is key to feeling good and living longer,” It keeps them healthy, active and energetic. It helps them keep and improve their strength so they stay independent. It gives them more energy to do the things they want to do. It helps prevent or delay health conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. It also perks up their mood, gives them a positive and joyful attitude and reduces depression.”

The Oaks’ wide-ranging health and fitness activities as well as the Spa & Wellness Center and LifeTrail outdoor wellness system are proof of the level of commitment to healthy, active living for all residents at The Oaks.

“Physical wellness is crucial to living independently and maintaining a healthy quality of life,” Winterrowd says.  

Mental well-being

As dedicated as Strauss is to challenging his body, he is equally dedicated to keeping his mind sharp.

“I audit classes at LSU-Shreveport in the spring and the fall,” he says. He favors history classes because history is a collection of stories, with the professor the storyteller.  His eyesight is failing so “I need classes where I don’t have to read and somebody tells me what to do.”

He would love to take a German language class. “I was born in Germany and German was my first language,” he says. “I seem to have lost it completely.” He chuckles and recalls a language class he once audited at Tulane University. “It was a disaster!”

Strauss also attends the monthly University at The Oaks lecture series on ancient civilizations led by Dr. Cheryl White, an LSUS history professor, and sings in The Oaks Chorus.  “I like to sing,” he says.

Challenging the mind is crucial to brain health and maintaining cognitive function. Those who engage in lifelong learning activities that stimulate creativity, imagination and support effective decision making, have  a lower risk of developing dementia says Dr. David Henry, of Family Medical and Geriatric Center.

“Keeping your mind active and sharp is a lifetime pursuit,” he says. “There are ongoing studies that have been published that encourage new activities one has never done before and gaining a new proficiency in a new skill.”

It is imperative for mental wellness, Dr. Henry says. He says challenging the mind activates new patterns of brain activity and builds new synaptic connections (pathways) in areas of the brain that correspond to the skill learned. Studies show older people who maintain mental sharpness create brain pathways to accomplish the same tasks as younger people.”

“The majority of older people want to learn new skills,” Dr. Henry says. “I think there is an ageist attitude that people attribute to the elderly, a lack of motivation and desire, when there is just as much in older adults as younger. Their body may slow them down and they may have illnesses to deal with, but they are eager and excited to learn.”

Spiritual well-being

Early Saturday morning, Kurt Strauss is dressed and waiting in the Grand Foyer of the Tower for an Oaks transportation driver to take him to Agudath Achim Synagogue, a conservative congregation. His faith is important to him; he honors Jewish holidays and worships weekly among some of the city’s most faithful.

The Rev. Andrew Comeaux, director of spiritual life services at The Oaks of Louisiana, says spiritual wellness absolutely impacts mental and physical health.  

“It is one of the components of our life and if we neglect any of them, we are going to suffer ,” he says.

Signs that there is an imbalance between physical, mental and spiritual health include loss of direction, hopelessness and helplessness, feeling alone or empty, bitterness, anger at God or higher power.

“Spirituality is different for each person,” Comeaux says. “For many people it is God. Jesus Christ is part of that. Someone beyond us that holds importance in our life and how we relate to that being.”

The Oaks is a multifaith community that offers a variety of spiritual life activities and events to promote spiritual wellness:  bible studies, vespers, Communion services, prayer and healing services, Sunday school and worship services, Spiritual Pathways – a monthly lecture on world religions – among others.

“People need to identify things in life that give them a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection,” Comeaux says. “Set aside time every day to do things that help you spiritually – praying, taking nature walks, having quiet time, attending religious services.”

Most important, he says, is to have a belief system. “Gather with others who have the same system, but be tolerant of others,” he says. “God is the father of us all. “