Active Aging: Embracing a Healthier and Fulfilled Life
Age is just a number! This popular saying holds true when it comes to active aging, a concept that promotes maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle as we grow older. Gone are the days when retirement meant slowing down and being inactive. Active aging encourages individuals to engage in physical, mental, and social activities, ensuring a higher quality of life and overall well-being. Markedly, Active aging is an intervention requiring involvement of community, family, and the individual.
Active aging is the antithesis of “I have served my time, now I can park in front of the television, nesting on a lazy chair, until I die.” Our later years may be laced with new sorrows and limitations, however, the senior life style may and should include the same category of activities that provided fulfillment in our youth. According to the life course perspective, aging is a process in which everyone participates, regardless of age. We must learn to age well.
The concept of active aging refers to “adding quality of life to years, not just years to life” (Serabia-Cobo, 2015). Really, what’s the purpose of living until we are 90 if those years are fraught with illness, pain, and loneliness. Living a long live gains only is appealing when the quality of those years allows for joyful and productive living. Active aging focuses on maintaining or improving the overall well-being or our lives as we age.
Active aging is personal involvement in the aging process, optimizing opportunities for health, social engagement, and mental health to enhance a person’s quality of life as they age.
Active aging doesn’t differ much from the goals of basic wellness. The elements that contribute to personal thriving or self actualization in our thirties also contribute to an optimized life in our seventies and beyond. However, the manner in which we fulfill those basic needs may change with our changing environment and changing abilities.
T. Franklin Murphy wrote that in later years of life, “we do what we always have done. we adapt. We use skills, sense of identity, familiar practices, and accumulated social resources to face the new challenges of physical, social, and mental changes. Hopefully, by this stage in life, we are accustom to change, and smoothly work our way through the obstacles. The later years can still be enjoyed; we still can flourish” (Murphy, 2022).
The best program for aging well is learning to habitually live well no matter what our age. As as age, we continue with healthy activities, slowly adapting them to fit the natural changes occurring with age. In the continuity theory of aging, psychologist emphasize the natural flow from early stages of life to the later stages. Basically, we adapt best to later life if we can use strategies from our past experience (Roberts, et al., 2017).
1. Physical Well-being
Engaging in regular exercise and staying physically active is integral to active aging. It helps to maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, reducing the risk of falls and fractures. Physical activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, or even gardening not only keep our bodies fit, but also improve cardiovascular health, bone density, and overall physical function. Regular exercise promotes longevity and helps manage chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
As we age, the normal stops and starts of physical exercise programs become more significant. Certainly, maintaining a fitness routine without pause is wonderful. Realistically, however, life happens and established habits get temporarily ditched. In early life, our bodies quickly readapt and we continue with our exercise program. Yet, as we age, some of these breaks are not so easily reestablished. Our bodies quickly deteriorate with a few months of sedentary behaviors. With weight gain and stiffening joints, previous levels of activity are difficult to achieve.
Healthy aging requires staying physically active. All other active aging strategies hinge on this foundational element. Physical activity is not only a function of the fitness gym. We can add elements of activity to almost everything that we do. Walking, gardening, and shopping all require engagement of our lungs and muscles.
Get up, get out, and do something. Notably, exercise is also an excellent opportunity to socialize, integrating another healthy element of active aging.
2. Mental Fitness
Keeping the mind sharp and active is equally important as it enhances cognitive function and prevents cognitive decline. Activities like reading, solving puzzles, learning new skills, or playing brain games can stimulate the brain, improve memory, and enhance cognitive abilities. Engaging in mentally challenging tasks also reduces the risk of developing conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Active aging encourages a lifelong commitment to intellectual growth and learning.
As we age, life seems to move faster and faster. Technology overwhelms our ability to keep up. While we may never keep pace with advancement, I’m not sure any of us can, we can continue to learn, challenging our mind by pushing beyond comfort zones, risking occasional frustrations and failures.
3. Social Engagement
Maintaining an active social life is another key aspect of active aging. Building and nurturing relationships with family, friends, and the community provides a sense of belonging, connection, and emotional support. Regular social interactions help combat loneliness, depression, and anxiety, promoting mental well-being. Volunteering, joining clubs or organizations, attending social events or classes, and participating in group activities are great ways to stay socially engaged and reap the benefits of a vibrant social life.
Robert J. Waldinger and Marc Schulz, the current leading researchers for the Harvard Longitude Study, wrote that “good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-four years of the Harvard Study and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this: Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period” (2023).
We need relationships. The more we isolate, the more we deteriorate.
4. Nutrition and Healthy Habits
As we age, our nutritional needs may change. Following a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is crucial for maintaining optimal health. Adequate hydration is also important. Avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and unhealthy habits like a sedentary lifestyle or poor sleep patterns are essential for active aging. Regular health check-ups and consulting healthcare professionals can help address any medical concerns and ensure proactive management of health issues.
Eating right is foundational to both physical and mental functioning.
5. Embracing a Purposeful Life
Active aging is not just about physical fitness, mental agility, and social engagement. It also emphasizes finding purpose and meaning in life. Retirement can be an opportunity to explore new interests, hobbies, or pursue long-held passions. Engaging in activities that bring joy, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose fosters overall well-being and satisfaction in later years. This could involve mentoring, traveling, starting a new business, or getting involved in community projects. The possibilities are endless!
Active aging is a mindset and a proactive approach to living a healthy, vibrant, and fulfilling life as we age. By prioritizing physical fitness, mental stimulation, social connections, and adopting healthy habits, we can savor the joys of later years and embrace the wisdom that comes with age. So let’s break the stereotype of aging and embrace an active lifestyle that allows us to enjoy life to the fullest, regardless of our age!
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022). Continuity Theory. Psychology Fanatic. Published 8-8-2022. Accessed 10-23-2023.
Roberts, E., Bishop, A., Ruppert-Stroescu, M., Clare, G., Hermann, J., Singh, C., Balasubramanan, M., Struckmeyer, K., Kang, M., & Slevitch, L. (2017). Active Aging for L.I.F.E.. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, 33(3), 211-222. DOI: 10.1097/TGR.0000000000000157
Waldinger, Robert J.; Schulz. Marc (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Simon & Schuster.