08/31/2018 Mind-Body Health
What makes life worth living, or the study of positive aging, is gaining in popularity. As you can expect to live longer than prior generations, it is important to focus on aging healthily, actively, and productively.
Although many believe it's the years in your life, it’s actually the life in your years. As your life expectancy improves so does the amount of pressure you can feel as you attempt to keep living well for as long as possible.
According to 2014 U.S. government data, it is realistic to expect up to 20 years of living, laughing, loving, and learning after retirement (assuming retirement age of 62 to 65 years). This can be simultaneously exciting and daunting. Positive aging deals with attitudes, societal impacts, and planning for this new reality.
Say Goodbye to Stereotypes
One of the first tips from the psychology of positive aging is to stop internalizing the negative stereotypes all around you. Television streams a barrage of drug commercials serving as a regular reminder of the potential symptoms (hair loss, incontinence, and arthritis, to name but a few) you may experience as you grow older. Financial institutions and insurance companies like to regularly scare their audience that they’re not doing enough regarding retirement planning and financial stability.
The aging population is often portrayed on film and TV as a burden on families; the sandwich generation is being pushed from both sides with their children and their parents relying on them for financial and emotional support. While you can't stick your head in the sand about the potential pitfalls of aging, what you can do is reduce the fear of loneliness, idleness, and illness that can plague the older population by looking past these stereotypes and finding examples of people thriving after retirement.
Look at former President Jimmy Carter who was onsite building homes in his 80s and continues to promote philanthropy at his Habitat for Humanity/Carter Work Project into his 90s. Then there’s Lil Hanson, the 104-year-old Michigan native who is still teaching yoga. The business world is filled with CEOs like Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, and J. Willard Marriott, who were born in the early 1930s.
When you start to gather evidence to support the belief that it is not only possible—but probable—that you will live a long and fulfilling life, it helps to counteract the negative stereotypes all around you.
The Psychology of Positive Aging
Positive aging is a branch of positive psychology—the study of what makes life worth living—that highlights techniques and policies that help the aging population to develop more resilience. In 2015, the World Health Organization recognized that making better choices in the later years of your life gives you an opportunity to be productive, active, and to continue developing. Positive aging is a movement toward a society that celebrates the aging process.
Positive aging supports people of all ages in the following ways:
- Achieving their full potential
- Fostering better solidarity between generations
- Respecting and encouraging engagement economically, culturally, and socially throughout life
- Creating a society where equality, independence, participation, care, self-actualization, and dignity are the prime objectives
Well-being subjectively appraises how people experience their lives. As you age, the criteria for well-being and successful aging include the following:
- Positive relationships
- Ability to accept change
- A sense of humor
When these six criteria are fostered, optimal function and enduring satisfaction can be the outcomes. How can you take the research of positive aging and apply it to your life?
It is important to keep active with a focus on balance and flexibility. Additionally, bone health through gentle weight training and cardiovascular fitness is important. It’s also crucial to ensure that you are sleeping well and awake feeling rested. What you fuel your body with needs to be a focus, too, as digestion and dietary needs can change with age.
Self-care doesn’t have to take up all of your time, but by putting a clear focus on maintaining or improving the health of your physical body, you set yourself up for success.
For many years scientists believed that the brain stopped developing new neural pathways after the first few years of life. This meant that critical periods of development were from birth to five years of age, and brains would only be malleable during youth. The new science of neuroplasticity has identified the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This phenomenon explains the brain's ability to adjust and cope throughout life. Functions once lost due to degeneration can be relearned or regained through new neural connections.
You may have heard stories about people experiencing a miraculous recovery of speech after a stroke where the speech center of the brain was entirely damaged. These are examples of neuroplasticity at work. Sometimes symptoms of disease and impairment can be entirely mitigated by the brain’s ability to reorganize using brain workouts or brain retraining.
Check out these brain-changing apps:
- Lumosity: This memory app focuses on paying attention, problem solving, and flexibility of thinking. The app’s constantly changing games are timed and competitive.
- Jiyo: This app connects to the Apple Health App to track your habits and suggest articles, videos, and information designed to promote your greatest well-being. With topics ranging from meditation, finance, relationships and finding meaning and purpose in life, this app also helps you to identify and foster your unique strengths.
- CogniFit Brain Fitness: Designed by neuroscientists, this app begins by testing memory and concentration, then offers you games designed to boost brain function.
If you don’t want screen time, meditation is another brain health activity that is recommended as you age. Practicing regularly is shown to improve focus and memory, decrease depression, and promote resilience all while reducing stress levels. (If you want to learn how to meditate, sign up for The Chopra Center’s online mediation course.)
Your Social Life
People of all ages need a strong sense of social connection and purpose to maximize well-being. Nurture your existing relationships and take advantage of the new stage of life to form new ones. Starting new friendships and projects or joining new groups help keep you feeling vital and engaged.
Adopt an attitude of gratitude. When you can see how lucky you are to be alive, gratitude can help you to be more resilient if a new ache or pain appears. According to pain management expert Dr. Peter Abaci , attitude is a key tool to finding pain relief.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you age a little every day. Embrace your age and enjoy this time in your life.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.