How well older people can function is a hot topic these days, not only in the work force and in politics, but it has also found its way into heated discussions among family and friends.
Aging is changing societies on a global level, according to the International Council of Active Aging (ICAA). Today, just over 34 percent of the US population is 50 and over and that number is rising rapidly with the baby boomer generation. Worldwide, that number increases to almost 38 percent. No matter where you live, or what your specific lifestyle and health situation is, anyone can be an active ager, according t o Colin Milner, who founded ICAA in 2001. “Even if you are in long term care, you can always squeeze the juice out of life so you can live better and longer,” he said.
Millner turned his belief that all our years “be alive with purpose and brimming with healthful activity” into a new kind of organization that helps change the way society perceives and responds to its older population. His organization also has created an Active Aging Week, Oct. 2-8, 2023.
Active aging sees all individuals—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health—fully engaging in life within all aspects of wellness that include emotional, environmental, intellectual/cognitive, physical, professional/vocational, social and spiritual. Research shows that an active lifestyle can lessen challenges and increase opportunities associated with aging.
Following the ICAA’s principles of active aging can help extend longevity and quality of life, according to Milner. “Physical activity is just one of the many elements that makes up a person. “It’s just as important that we are socially connected and that we are intellectually active.” You don’t have to start running marathons, but you do want to get your body, mind and soul moving and be fully engaged in living life.
How to be an Active Ager
The ICAA offers guidelines on how to stay well and live longer. While I like to believe I’m on the correct path to staying well until the day I die, a few guidelines require maintaining a positive attitude and letting go of things I cannot change. What genes I was born with and how I lived years ago are two aspects that influence me actively aging I can’t change. I can, however, choose to think that what I do in the present is most important.
Stay positive – Active aging starts with having a positive attitude about getting older. Yale psychologist Becca Levy has found that negative attitudes about aging can trim 7.5 years off your life. Other studies have found positive thinking can lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as improve quality of sleep.
Stay connected – Older people with active social interactions, either in person or virtually, may live longer and reduce their risk of depression, according to The American Geriatrics Society.
Stay involved – Participation in cultural, social, economic, and civic affairs as well as volunteering and helping out neighbors can also help foster wellness and healthier aging regardless of physical or cognitive status, the WHO reports.
Stay healthy at all ages – Your early life behavior that includes diet, alcohol and tobacco use, sets the stage for later-life active aging, according to Dr. Susan Friedman, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at the University of Rochester. However, changing to a healthier lifestyle at any age can help minimize the effects of disease and extend longevity, she added.
Stay curious – Intellectual engagement is as important as physical and social stimulation. Efforts that promote brain health, like taking a class, playing music, reading books about new subjects, or learning new skills, keep the brain engaged and neurons firing.
Stay calm – Stress can creep into our lives no matter what life phase we are in. Exercise, deep breathing techniques, mindfulness or meditation, and increased social and mental health support are just some non-pharmacologic ways to help.
While other factors like income, education, and access to healthcare play roles in healthy longevity, everyone can take an active approach towards aging, regardless of their particular circumstances.
A 2020 report from the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that we should be thinking about health and aging more as an economic and social investment rather than a strain on the economy. “Long-term prevention and health promotion cannot simply be left to healthcare providers or healthcare systems. It is quite literally everybody’s business,” the report said.
There are no hard and fast rules for active aging, except to engage your whole self as much as possible. “Being young isn’t about age: it’s about being a free spirit,” said Lesley Lawson “Twiggy”, who is now 74 years old. Cecily Tyson, who died at 96, said, “Life and aging are the greatest gifts that we could possibly ever have.”
For information on the International Council on Active Aging: www.icaa.cc.
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy, get fit and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.