We can’t stop ourselves from aging, but we can try to age successfully. But what is successful aging? To us, it’s the idea that our later years can be a time full of possibilities. We see retirement as an exciting chance to focus on ourselves—our most important values and experiences.
Experts have various theories on how to age best, but most agree that one of the most important factors is how we feel—both physically and mentally. Experts tell us that people’s most common regrets late in life are not about financial status or career achievements; they’re about missed opportunities with loved ones. Aging successfully, then, also means having strong relationships with the people you love.
Old Age Isn’t What It Used to Be
More and more people worldwide are growing older. Individuals 60 and above make up about 12.3% of the global population, and people today live around 30 years longer. Several things contribute to this longer life, including better healthcare, advances in technology, higher living standards, and overall social and economic progress.
This progress is reflected in changing attitudes around relationships. Between 1990 and 2019, the number of adults who were unpartnered and living alone rose to new highs. Older singles accounted for a portion of this jump; between 1990 and 2015, divorce rates among those 50+ rose more rapidly than any younger age group. While that doesn’t sound like a cause for celebration, it does suggest that people are thinking about their golden years in a more independent, self-determined light.
Physically, aging is the result of the body accumulating damage over time. But according to some, aging isn’t a straightforward linear process; it also matters how young we feel and what we think about aging. As people live longer, a new generation of older adults is looking at aging in a more positive light, and the idea of successful aging has shifted our understanding of growing older.
Managing Health and Aging Successfully
How well we handle stress is a key factor in the length and quality of our lives as we get older. Studies show that if we feel happy and satisfied, and achieve our goals, we’re likely to be healthier and live longer. But, as we age, stress can build up, and if we can’t deal with life’s challenges, it can affect our health and our satisfaction with life.
Physical and mental health walk hand in hand, so we need to find ways to handle stress as we age and to do things that make us happy. Living longer means we might face issues like disabilities and chronic diseases that can impact our happiness and overall quality of life. Taking time to nurture your relationships with family, children, and friends can help you stay healthy and vibrant as you age.
There are simple steps we all can take to preserve our health as we age. These strategies are backed by neuroscience, and most can yield both mental and physical benefits, creating relief in multiple areas of your life:
Social connection plays a crucial role in maintaining physical and mental well-being, and it becomes even more significant as we age. In a release from the US Surgeon General, it was reported that chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase older adults’ risk of dementia by a staggering 50%.
Research has shown that adults aged 70 to 90 who reported more pleasant social interactions also saw better cognitive performance. This is critical as the risk of age-related neurological disorders increases.
Taking steps to improve your social life can improve more than just your cognitive function. More frequent social interactions have also been shown to increase our overall happiness and quality of life. Spending time with friends and loved ones is correlated with living longer. Getting older comes with its own unique challenges, but you don’t have to face them alone.
Remember that at this point in life, it’s more about quality than quantity. Research shows that our number of close friendships starts to drop off as early as our twenties, but it’s the quality of interactions that really matters. In fact, older adults with more argumentative, negative relationships were shown to be less happy than those with just a few high-quality ones.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
While older adults have the most eating habits of any age group overall, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports there are some special challenges that can make maintaining a balanced diet harder for seniors.
As we age bone density and muscle mass tend to decrease. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins such as B-12, which can decline with age. Even the milk for your cereal provides beneficial calcium and protein.
As we get older we also tend to feel less thirsty overall. This makes it more difficult to drink enough liquids. Drinking a glass of water in the morning alongside breakfast can help boost your hydration levels and aid digestion.
Get a Move On!
Experts say regular physical activity is one of the most important parts of maintaining good health as we age. Exercise helps us retain muscle mass that begins to decline significantly later in life. According to your ability, it is recommended that adults over 65 get about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days.
Going on a brisk walk is a great option to see your neighbors and possibly add some nice social interactions to your day as well. Pickleball is another great option for seniors; pickleball leagues have grown in popularity recently, being a great low-impact exercise option.
For a gentler option, studies have shown that yoga is effective in improving several factors associated with living longer, like leg strength and walking speed. Just a few minutes of gentle stretching in the morning can have a significant impact on your day. Be sure to look for stretches that are comfortable and appropriate for your level of mobility.
Keep Your Mind Active
Lifelong learning is important for maintaining cognitive function and overall well-being. One strategy experts recommend is to take up a new hobby you find a bit challenging but still enjoyable. Things like scrapbooking or learning a new card game are mentally stimulating and fun options to try.
Stretching yourself intellectually can also help you stay mentally active as you age. Try taking up brain puzzles like Sudoku or crosswords. Enrolling in a community college class or online course can be an excellent way to learn about one of your interests and to meet new people. Even reading books on your own is an excellent way to stay sharp.
Successful aging, in our eyes, means unlocking the potential of our later years. Instead of seeing retirement as a time to slow down, we view it as an exciting and meaningful chapter in our lives. By taking steps to safeguard our mental and physical health, we can age with confidence and enjoy every moment.