Your Roadmap to Healthy Aging

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Does your lifestyle promote healthy aging? What can you do to enjoy both a long and a healthy life?  

You may be surprised by some of the information in this article.

Until recently, most people believed that there was a pattern of aging that could be described as “normal.” They assumed that aging meant a decline in function and health. Now, we know that such decline is more related to lifestyle and lack of physical activity than to aging itself. For example, osteoporosis is not a normal outcome of aging. It is loss of bone caused by a variety of factors, some of which are under the individual’s control.

This article is written for both the younger generation and the senior. It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

What Factors Affect Healthy Aging?

“A healthy senior is someone who maintains a positive attitude, shares themselves with others, creates a healthy social support network, is still productive in society, and feels needed by others!”

Members of a seniors’ group.

As you might assume, genetics play a role in aging and health. But that is only part of the picture. Most of the changes that occur with aging are associated with:

  • diet and exercise habits
  • alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • psychological traits
  • and the presence or absence of support from family and friends.

Everyone wants to live long and be healthy. No one wants to grow old, but what are we willing to do to offset the effects of aging? 

The main threat to healthy aging is sedentary living. For example, you might prevent heart disease through physical activity and exercise. 

Almost everyone agrees that regular physical activity is essential to good health. What beliefs might prevent seniors from joining recreational activities such as sports or fitness programs? Seniors might not place much value on leisure because a strong work ethic helped them to survive the depression, raise their children in post-war years, and save for a rainy day. Fear of injury is another common constraint. Even young seniors are encouraged to: “Take it easy.” Would you think of giving snowboarding lessons to a 65-year old? 

In 2011, Canada had more than 5800 centenarians. (Ratio of 5:1 women:men) With increasing longevity, we can find examples of individuals who are living a healthy old age. 

  • Queen Elizabeth is still carrying out her duties in her 90s
  • Judi Dench acting in movies at age 85. 
  • 86-year old Canadian Bill Mayo doing marathon hikes and guiding much younger walkers.

Seniors’ Mental Health

As we age, we face many challenges and changes that can affect our mental health. The majority of seniors use their lifelong coping skills to adapt to many challenges, such as:

  • onset of physical health problems,
  • retirement,
  • moving to a new home,
  • loss of friends,
  • and changes in the roles they play in society. 

Psychological distress (feeling sad, nervous, hopeless, and other negative emotions) declines in young seniors – those between 65 and 75 years of age. It increase slightly after age 75. This may be related to physical problems and higher risks for social isolation. Similarly, young seniors report a higher sense of overall well-being than younger adults or those over 75 years. 

Review the description of being healthy identified by a seniors’ group (quoted earlier). They identified five characteristics. As you read this list, do you see these characteristics in yourself?  In your parents?

  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Share shelf with others.
  • Create a healthy social support network.
  • Be productive in society.
  • Feel needed by others.

What Promotes Life Satisfaction?

Do you know that seniors are likely to report the same levels of life satisfaction as younger adults? In general, life satisfaction is influenced by emotional health, spirituality and social well-being.

Emotional Health in Later Life

Geri Burdman, the author of Healthful Aging, described the five A’s for emotional health:

  • Appreciation: recognition from others and being needed;
  • Acceptance: the need to belong and to associate with others with similar values;
  • Affection: paying attention to the happiness of others;
  • Achievement: having a sense of accomplishment; and
  • Amusement: laughter, fun, and joy.

As you read the components of emotional health described above, what comes to mind regarding your own parents? Do they feel needed by others and by your family?  Are they able to associate with others of their age and of similar interests?  Do they get a chance to accomplish new things or to talk about the joys of their past accomplishments? And do they experience laughter – after all – “laughter is the best medicine.”

Spirituality in Later Life.

The experience of spirituality is an individual journey that is related to, but differs from, religiosity. For some, spirituality provides an understanding of death, a source of moral values, or a way of coping with suffering. For others, aspects of spirituality include hope, inner meaning, or a connection with transcendent love.

Spiritual activities may include praying, meditating, reading inspirational literature, listening to inspirational music, or participating in organized religion.  

Older individuals look for meaning in aging. They want to understand why they are struggling with their loss of roles, identity, or capacity. For some, reminiscence and life review provide an opportunity to reflect on their life and their legacy.

Social well-Being

Social relations are fundamental to the experience of healthy aging. Roles give meaning and purpose to our lives. Researcher Carolyn Rosenthal found that in most families the older generation continues to have important roles. One important role was that of the “Kinkeeper.” Often a female, the kinkeeper is someone who works at keeping family members in touch with each other, thus maintaining stronger family relationships. The “Comforter” gives advice while the “Ambassador” represents the family at special occasions. Other roles were “Financial Advisor,” “Placement Officer” (helps family members find jobs) and the “Head of the Family.” 

Twelve Tips to Defy Aging

If you would like to read a summary of choices that you can make, at any age, to improve your physical, social, emotional and financial well-being, click on the link below.

Your Roadmap to Healthy Aging

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