You may have heard the term “active aging”, but what does it really mean? Do you have to hit the gym every day or go hiking every weekend?
No way. Active aging includes a wide range of activities that keep your mind, body, emotions, and spirit engaged, regardless of age, health, or socioeconomic status, depending on the World Health Organization (WHO). It also means being diligent about your own health and well-being.
Following the principles of active aging can help extend longevity and quality of life, according to Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. “Physical activity is just one of the many things that make up a person. “It’s equally important that we are socially connected and intellectually active.”
How to be an active senior
Active aging starts with a positive attitude towards aging. Research by Yale psychologist Becca Levy and others found that negative attitudes about aging can shave 7.5 years off your life. Other studies find links between positive attitudes about aging and better health, including a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as better quality of sleep.
According to the American Geriatrics Society, older adults with active social interactions with family and friends — whether in person or virtually — can live longer and lower their risk of depression. Conversely, being isolated or solitary increases the chances of poorer health.
Participation in cultural, social, economic and civic affairs can also help promote well-being and healthier aging, regardless of physical or cognitive status, reports WHO. Activities like volunteering in the community, participating in intergenerational programs (think: tutoring, reading to children, family reunions), political involvement, or even helping a neighbor promote a sense of satisfaction and goal.
Stay healthy at all ages and stages
According to Dr. Susan Friedman, geriatrician and professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, your behavior in early life, including diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption, sets the stage for active aging later. in life. Friedman designates a growing recognition among medical professionals, this lifestyle is really making a difference in healthy aging.
“However, people need to know that they can live active, healthy, happy and productive lives, even with chronic illness or disability,” Friedman says. And, it’s never too late to adopt healthier behaviors, which can help minimize the effects of disease and extend longevity, she says.
Intellectual engagement is as important as physical and social stimulation, experts say. Efforts that promote brain health, such as taking a class, playing music, reading books on new topics, or learning new skills, keep the brain engaged and the neurons fire.
Dealing with stress and anxiety as an older person is different. According to Harvard Health experts, you may experience new types of stressors, such as the loss of a loved one, a change in your financial situation, or a decrease in the structure of your day due to retirement, as well as physical changes. Exercise, deep breathing techniques, mindfulness or meditation, and increased social and mental support are just a few non-pharmacological ways to help manage life’s ups and downs.
Other factors that contribute to longevity
While other factors such as biology and genetics, income, education and access to health care play an important role in healthy longevity, everyone can take an active approach to aging, regardless of their particular circumstances, says Friedman.
Integrating multiple components (physical, dietary, social, stress reduction, and avoiding toxins like tobacco) means you’re more likely to support your own healthy aging. “The more we can take this life cycle approach, the better off we will be,” she says.
Beyond the individual
While individuals must take the lead, health care systems, governments and policy makers must also create the means to support healthy aging. A 2020 report of McKinsey Global Institute, concluded that we should view health and aging more as an economic and social investment rather than a strain on the economy or a safety net.
“Long-term prevention and health promotion cannot simply be left to health care providers or health systems. It’s literally everyone’s business,” the report said. At the individual level, people who take more responsibility for their own health and aging reduce the burden on the health care system and contribute more to the economy.
No matter where you live or what your lifestyle and health status is, anyone can be an active senior, according to Milner. “Even if you’re in long-term care, you can still get the most out of life. So that you can live better, longer, in this circumstance,” he says.
There are no hard and fast rules for active aging except to engage as much as possible, Friedman says. “You don’t have to climb the mountain. You just need to take that first step.