When we talk about successful or healthy aging, what exactly do we mean? Who should define that? Healthy aging has been defined in numerous ways. Definitions usually include things like disease prevention, high physical and cognitive functioning, and the ability to engage in meaningful activities. Interestingly, some research studies indicate that while not all elders met the definition of successful aging as determined by health experts, they reported being content and felt they were aging successfully, nonetheless. This was in spite of physical ailments and limitations, indicating that attitude also plays a part in how one experiences the aging process.
Why do some individuals lead an active and engaging lifestyle well into their 80’s and 90’s, while others struggle to do so in their 60’s? Is it all in our genes, or are there habits and behaviors within our control that can help us age more successfully? It is estimated that about 85% of older adults have one chronic disease, and 60% have two chronic conditions. These include things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and arthritis, which can all impact the ability to age well. A proactive approach is always preferred, but the good news is that lifestyle changes have shown to have a positive impact even when started late in life. It’s never too early – or too late – to make some positive changes.
While the definition of healthy aging may vary, there are a variety of elements that most agree aid in the attainment of healthy aging. We are going to take a closer look at some of these in the coming weeks.
- Proper nutrition – Focus on foods rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Exercise – Set a goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Try to work in some strength training as well as moderate aerobic exercise.
- Social engagement – This not only makes us feel good, but helps maintain cognition.
- Cognitive stimulation – Continue to learn new and challenging things.
- Stress reduction – Stress can wreak havoc both physically and emotionally. Explore ways to deal with stress in a healthy manner.
- Health literacy – This is the ability to obtain, read, understand, and use health information to make appropriate health decisions.