Most of us have New Year’s resolutions. One of my new goals for 2020 is to age better. Andrew Weil, MD, in his bestseller Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being (2005) said, “to age gracefully requires that we stop denying the fact of aging and learn and practice what we have to do to keep our bodies and minds in good working order through all the phases of life” (p. 7). You may well ask, “how does one do that”? For me, it means actually practicing what I preach. We are fortunate today to have so much research and information on aging that we can pinpoint some specific areas that are common to successful aging. I have taught these to numerous students and groups of older adults, but it wasn’t until I joined the over 50 age group that this knowledge seemed more personally applicable. So, let me share with you five keys that both scientists and the oldest old persons in our society have found contribute to healthy aging.
Have a positive attitude towards life. This includes having good coping skills and being able to deal with grief and loss appropriately. Most centenarians will say that you should always having something to look forward to. Make a list of places you want to travel this year, vacations to take, people you need to visit, or things that need to be fixed around the house. Then start to cross them out as you do them, and bask in your accomplishments.
Maintain key relationships. These include having a stable marriage and/or being involved in a religious or social community. In George Vaillant’s book Aging Well (2002), he reported the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Generativity, or selfless investment in others (including the next generation), was found to be the best predictor of a long and happy marriage. Likewise, studies show that older persons who affiliate with a religious organization, such as attending church regularly, report better health and better social support systems, and tend to remain independent longer.
Maintain a healthy weight through proper nutrition. Eat a diet with plenty of fiber, fruits, vegetables and water. Limit saturated fats, salt, processed foods, and less useful calories from alcohol or sugary drinks.
Stay active. Physically, do some moderate exercise on most days of the week. For persons who are older and unable to do strenuous activity, remember that regular daily chores that include continuous motion such as doing laundry, gardening, or cleaning house can count as exercise and can also be spread throughout the day to accumulate the recommended 30 minutes of activity. If able, brisk walking is highly recommended. Keep your mind active as well. Resolve to take up a new hobby such as a craft, learning to play an instrument, or studying a foreign language. Working puzzles, playing cards, and reading are also good ways to stimulate your brain function and keep your memory sharp.
Avoid negative behaviors such as overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Adopt an attitude of “everything in moderation”. Don’t smoke, and if you do smoke, stop. Sadie Delany (1994) at over 100 years of age wrote in her book Having Our Say, “so you want to live to be 100. Well, start with this: No smoking, no drinking, no chewing” (p. 11).
Resolve with me to age more gracefully during 2020 and let’s see how we do. Do you have any secrets of healthy aging that have worked for you or your parents/grandparents? Please share them with us.