Although we all get older, we don’t have to feel old. Maintaining the right attitude about aging — and keeping up with our physical health — can help us stay young at heart.
There’s no shortage of advice on how to age without feeling like we’re getting old. Some see age as a state of mind, some cite social engagement, and still others emphasize diet and physical health as essential to keeping us young.
After searching through dozens of aging articles and studies, we’ve found the top five essential tips for aging happily and staying healthy.
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Maintaining active connections with our community, family and friends is critical to staying healthy, both mentally and physically. As we ourselves get older, our family relationships change and we have opportunities to mend fences — particularly with our own aging parents. In addition, aging adults are in the unique position of being able to learn a lot from older and younger friends — the former providing a sense of perspective, and the latter a sense of youth. Meanwhile, social isolation is a major predictor of depression, as well as having negative health effects: the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study reported earlier this year that more social engagement has a significant effect on physical health later in life.
On Psychology Today‘s website, aging expert Helen Kivnick, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, points out that our ever-increasing life expectancy presents an amazing opportunity for personal growth: “Because people live longer and with greater independence, they can plan their futures more actively,” she says. Of course, that means we can’t just sit around waiting to get old and watching our bodies and minds deteriorate. We have to think about what we might want to do, whether it’s spending more time in the garden or learning a new creative skill. “[T]he most important thing we can do to ensure a comfortable and interesting old age is to plan for one.”
Several aging experts are starting to lay some of the blame for our ambivalence about getting older on the pervasive effects of ageism in our society. Learning to accept the natural changes to our bodies and minds that occur as we age is a big part of combating the problem. Whether it’s the media or pharmaceutical companies, we are bombarded with messages about how we’re going to start falling apart, our bodies losing vitality and our minds losing acuity, and this makes the prospect of getting older somewhat depressing; but with aging as with anything else, there is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we look at getting older as an opportunity — a chance to really focus on what is important to us — we can look forward to actually becoming healthier and happier with age.
We’ve all heard the saying: use it or lose it. If you want to remain healthy and vital well into your later years, exercise is a must. Regular physical exercise will help you maintain flexibility and muscle mass, sure, but it can also keep you feelingyoung. It’s mentally empowering to be able to continue doing many of the physical activities you did when you were younger — some people, in fact, are more fit as older adults than they were as young adults. But perhaps the most compelling evidence of all for staying active comes from a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine: those who were more physically fit in midlife were less likely to develop chronic health conditions in old age, such as Alzheimer’s disease or congestive heart failure.
Relax! Slow down! It’s advice we’re all used to in our increasingly hectic daily lives, but stress is a bit more complex than that. On the one hand, debilitating stress can have negative effects on our health later in life: a study in the Journal of Gerontology found that adults who reported greater work stress in midlife were more likely to show disabilities and physical difficulties in older age. Oddly enough, though, a little stress can be good for us. “If you never have to react to anything demanding, the mechanisms in your brain that help you deal with taxing situations will atrophy,” says Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD, scientific director of the National Institute on Aging, in an article on Oprah.com. Striking the right balance for each individual is the key.
Even social networking can have a positive effect on our level of engagement and mental health, so why not try it? Let us know your tips for aging well and staying happy in older age in the comments below.