When we talk about successful or successful aging, what exactly do we mean? Who defines that? Successful aging has been defined in numerous ways. Definitions usually include like disease prevention, high physical and cognitive functioning, and the ability to engage in meaningful activities. Interestingly, some research studies indicate that while not all elders met the definition of successful aging as determined by health experts, they reported being content and felt that they were aging successfully nonetheless. This was in spite of physical ailments and limitations, indicating that attitude also plays a big part in how one experiences the aging process.
How can some individuals succeed at successful aging by having an active and engaging lifestyle well into their 80’s and 90’s while others struggle to do so in their 60’s? Is it all in our genes, or are there habits and behaviors within our control that can help us age more successfully? It is estimated that about 85% of older adults have one chronic disease, and about 60% have two chronic conditions. These include things like diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD, heart disease, and arthritis, which all can impact the ability to age well. A proactive approach is always preferred, but the good news is that lifestyle changes have been shown to have a positive impact even when started later in life. It is never too early or too late to make positive changes.
Of course there is a genetic factor to health. But not everything is dictated by your genes. Just because your dad died of lung cancer does not mean that you will, especially if you choose not to smoke (or stopped smoking at a younger age than he did.) A family tendency to diabetes may mean that you should pay even more attention to diet and exercise to control or limit the ravages of that disease.
While the definition of healthy aging may vary, there are a variety of elements that most agree aid in the attainment of healthy aging. Those elements include the following:
Proper Nutrition-rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. (See our former blog on Mediterranean diet)
Exercise-set a goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week helps with successful aging. Try to work in some strength training as well as moderate aerobic exercise. If you feel unsure how to start, you could hire a personal trainer who specializes in senior health for a few sessions (after the coronavirus lockdown is over of course.)
Social engagement-this not only makes us feel good, but helps maintain cognition.
Cognitive stimulation-keep learning new and challenging things.
Stress reduction-stress can wreak havoc both physically and emotionally. Explore ways to deal with stress in a healthy manner.
Health literacy-the ability to obtain, read, understand and use health information to make appropriate health decisions.
It is encouraging to note that here in Collier County we have a great community of seniors and some of the longest life expectancies in the United States. You can always start a conversation with an older friend or relative: ask how they implement healthy aging. Compare their advice with information you can glean from trusted internet sources such as the Surgeon General, the National Institutes for Health, AARP’s website and others that you have found. There is no one right answer, but a group of related healthy practices that can help all of us age gracefully.