What does the term “healthy aging” mean to you? To most of us, it brings to mind exercise, diet, and the physical aspects of health. But there’s more to healthy aging than being physically fit. According to the U.S. Surgeon General and backed up by recent studies, aging well depends on four elements: avoiding disease, sustaining high cognitive and physical function, engaging with others, and keeping a judicial eye on finances.
Coping with change is difficult, no matter how old you are. The particular challenge for older adults is the sheer number of changes and transitions—including the loss of friends, family, your career, your health, and even your independence. It’s natural to feel those losses. But if that sense of loss is balanced with positive ingredients, you have a formula for aging well.
Healthy aging means continually reinventing yourself, finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones. Unfortunately, for many, aging brings anxiety and fear instead. How will I take care of myself? What if I lose my spouse? What is going to happen to my mind? However, many of these fears stem from myths about aging that are exaggerated or simply untrue. The truth is that you are stronger and more resilient than you may think.
- Focus on the things you’re grateful for. The longer you live, the more you lose. But as you lose people and things, life becomes even more precious. When you stop taking things for granted, you appreciate and enjoy what you have even more.
- Acknowledge and express your feelings. You may have a hard time showing strong emotions, perhaps feeling that such a display is inappropriate and weak. But burying your feelings can lead to anger, resentment, and depression. Don’t deny what you’re going through. Find healthy ways to process your feelings, perhaps by talking with a close friend or writing in a journal.
- Accept the things you can’t change. Many things in life are beyond our control. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. Face your limitations with dignity and a healthy dose of humor.
- Look for the silver lining. As the saying goes, “What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Take daily action to deal with life’s challenges. When challenges seem too big to handle, sweeping them under the carpet often appears easier. But ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away; it allows both the problem and your anxiety to build. Instead, take things one small step at a time. Even a small step can go a long way to boosting your confidence and reminding you that you are not powerless.
During my research for this article, I found the Seniors Digest, News and Info for Older Adults and Their Families, Seattle-King County Edition
Celebrate Healthy Aging Month. Focus on Mental, Fiscal, and Physical Fitness (http://www.poststat.net/pwp008/pub.49/issue.318/article.406/)
The State of Washington Office of Health Promotion offers these 9 Steps to Healthy Aging!
- Be physically active
- Avoid tobacco
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fats
- Get enough calcium
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation
- See a health care provider regularly
- Be socially active with friends and family. Be involved with your community
- Take care of your teeth
- If you take any medications, supplements, or traditional home remedies, make sure you are taking them properly
Start a new hobby with a group of friends
Simplify money management by having your Social Security benefits and other income automatically deposited into your bank account
Make a difference in your community and volunteer. You can also encourage others to join you by reaching out with a phone call or sending emails
Realize that ongoing feelings of depression are not part of the aging process. Don’t be reluctant to discuss your feelings or ask for help from family, friends, or medical professionals
Keep your mind sharp by exercising your brain. Complete puzzles, read, or take a class at your local college or community center