Healthy aging is a hot topic, not only because we are all aging all the time, but because the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964), a massive demographic (and market target) in the US, is getting older. In fact, starting in 2011, approximately one American has turned 65 years of age every 8 seconds, and that will continue for the next 18 years. This has serious implications for our society and specifically our healthcare system.
Aging and Health
As a millennial, I had never given much thought into anything particular to aging until I took a class called Aging and Health at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). Mind = BLOWN! The first part of the semester was spent realizing how biased we all were about what it means to be older — all of us were more ageist than we thought we were. The second part was realizing why we think this way by examining media, culture, and language. And the final part was debunking all of that through the readings in our coursework, videos and most of all, working one-on-one with elderly individuals and sharing our experiences. My work with the elderly really opened my eyes and changed my perception of the aging population.
Being elderly doesn’t have to mean sitting in a retirement home playing bingo. It doesn’t have to mean being sick or feeble either. Just as there are many ways to live your life as a young person, there are many ways to age. With some intentionality, older adults can be thriving! I came across many individuals over the age of 70 who were not only in great health, but active and productive members of their communities. Of course, factors like genetics, nutrition and fitness throughout life are critical to ensure a positive experience as an older adult. I also want to touch on some additional themes I came across in the work my classmates and I did with the older adults in our assignments.
Four Things Happy, Healthy Older Adults Have In Common:
1. Physical Activity
Whether they walk to the grocery store, do water aerobics, take their dog on a walk or go to the gym, all of the people we worked with do some sort of daily activity, even if it’s for only 15 minutes!
FACT: Not only is being physically active beneficial for overall health and happiness (Seratonin released from exercise keeps you feelin’ good!) but exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. According to Jonathan Myers, people with heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes benefit from regular exercise.
2. Friends or close partner whom they spoke to often
Some of these people had spouses whom they were emotionally close with. Others had friends or family. But all of them had at least one person in their lives that they spoke to almost daily on an emotional level.
FACT: Chop and Robnett state that women have an average life expectancy of 5 years longer than men. While this is attributed mainly to the fact that the major killers (heart attacks, cancer and stroke) are more common in men, additionally, it is noted that this discrepancy could be due to the fact that women generally have a stronger social support system.
Image Sourced from Creative Commons
I found this so endearing! These individuals had hobbies like cooking, knitting, chess, painting, or music. These activities kept them sharp! Many of them started these hobbies later in life. It’s never too late to start something!
FACT: “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is actually kind of true. Using your brain will help you keep it strong. Furthermore, activities that combine physical movement and mental engagement (cooking, tai chi, yoga) are especially beneficial! Coupling exercise with mental stimulation actually strengthens nerve cells and increases the amount of nerve cells being generated.
4. Sense of Purpose
This seems like a loaded concept, but really, it seems that as we age and get wiser, we realize that the simple things in life can be incredibly satisfying. There was a huge variety in WHAT the reported purpose was, but these happy folks all had something that helped them get up every morning. We saw responses anywhere from being a grandparent, or having a dog, to helping with the community garden. Narrowing down what really makes you happy is key!
FACT: People that reported having a sense of purpose outlived their counterparts by 15%. It didn’t matter when they found their sense of direction, whether it be in their 20’s or 70’s.
While these things may not seem relevant to you now (they will one day!) keep them in mind for your parents or grandparents!
Watch this video and break the stereotype!
Watch this video to see an older woman rocking it on the dance floor (fast forward to 1:45)!