When we talk about successful or healthy aging, what exactly do we mean?
Who defines that? Healthy aging has been defined in numerous ways.
Definitions usually include things 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 lead 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
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
* Proper Nutrition-rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean
proteins. (For ideas, search for “Mediterranean diet”)
* Exercise-set a goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. 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. Find a way to stay connected, either
through a part-time job or by volunteering.
* 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
* 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.