We’ve all heard (or used) the phrase, “Age is just a number.” According to fitness innovator Maureen “Mo” Hagan, that statement is 100 percent accurate. “I truly believe that age is a number and that your brain only understands what you tell it,” Hagan says.
The vice president of program innovation for Canada-based GoodLife Fitness and an active aging expert believes that numbers are limiting. Rather, she likes to view age as an ability. Because “ability is unlimited,” Hagan says.
Hagan has been working in the fitness industry for more than 30 years and teaches multiple classes a week, as well as designs her own class formats. Her background as a physiotherapist allows her unique insight and the ability to bring what she calls “intelligent awareness” into the fitness world. “I help fitness instructors and personal trainers build programs that I can be really proud of, knowing that they’re based on smart science and proper movement mechanics,” she says.
Discovering functional fitness
Early on in her career, Hagan discovered what is now known as functional fitness in the wellness world. Her favorite class to teach, NEWBODY, is one she created based on the functional fitness principles she learned from her time abroad. “Twenty-six years ago, [functional fitness] really didn’t exist as a training concept. But today, it allows all abilities, all ages, men and women alike, to come to class and learn how to really exercise and build a fitness level that will take them to wherever they want to go with their fitness goals,” she says.
But active aging is so much more than just fitness, says Hagan. “In my 30s, I always took an outside approach. I worked on my fitness and my physical abilities, and my physical presence,” Hagan explains. “As an anti-aging expert, and one who is totally passionate about redefining aging for the baby boomer, I really believe that you need to take an inside/outside approach.” For Hagan, that means not only keeping your body physically fit, but nourishing your body and mind and soul as well.
We asked Hagan to share her top tips for aging gracefully, no matter when you start.
Ask Hagan for the secret to living a long, healthy life, and she’ll tell you it’s all about surrounding yourself with amazing people—and there is research to back her up. According to scientific studies, the secret to living a long, healthy life is by maintaining a healthy social life.
“Surround yourself with people who want the same thing so that you’re actually working together to support each other and learning new and different strategies, and to not allow yourself to live by definition of those who lived and took that path forward before you,” she says.
For Hagan, group fitness classes are a game changer for living youthfully as you age because it means you’re spending time interacting and collaborating with others.
Do more than cardio
“While I’m a bit of a cardio junkie, I’ve come to recognize that one of most important parts of fitness for maintaining youth is resistance training,” Hagan says. Resistance training helps with bone density—very important as we age—and building muscle. It can even reverse the aging process.
Hagan is a huge advocate for not only physical training but also brain training. Mindfulness and stress management are key to living a long, healthy life, she says. Studies show that stress can actually speed up the aging process by shortening the length of your DNA strands. Practicing mindfulness and meditation are ways to train your brain to combat and manage stress, and even help you sleep better.
Watch what you eat, but never diet
Hagan says nourishment is essential—but diets are not.
“The saying is, ‘You’ve got to feed your body to move your body.’ While I’ve always appreciated nutrition, I’ve come to really understand that it’s a game changer—eating clean and lean, watching how many animal products I eat and really eating as close to nature as possible,” she explains. “I’ve tried many different approaches but never a diet. That’s the key. I don’t watch calories. I really watch what I put into my body and how it works for me. Drinking more water has [also] made a big difference in my skin, in my energy and how I feel.”
Underappreciated but also important is sleep, Hagan adds. “I don’t believe in the amount of hours you sleep, I believe in the quality and the consistency of when you go to bed and when you rise. That’s something I’ve really had to humble myself to learn.”
While you sleep, your body and brain are recharging, and literally resetting themselves. Research indicates that bad sleep can lead to cardiovascular disease, memory decline, dementia and a whole host of health complications.
“You’ve got to feed your mind, as well as your body,” Hagan says. This means learning new things, reading new books, trying new hobbies—anything that keeps your brain actively creating new neural pathways. For Hagan, however, it’s more than this.
“Learn about the mindset around living the way that you choose to live because aging is only a number and your mind will believe what you tell it,” she says. “So you’ve got to feed it through healthy thoughts and healthy information, as well.”
Find your passion
At the end of the day, it’s about finding what works for you, Hagan says. “For me, it’s hanging out and being around people who have the same philosophies toward aging so that we can support each other, and help raise each other up, and lead the way for others to follow.”
Photo credit: Todd Cribari, inspirostudio.com