The human race is getting older.
Life expectancy and human longevity has increased incredibly in the last few decades.
According to National Institute of Aging, in 2010, about 524 million people were 65 years or older—8% of the world’s population. By 2050, this is expected to nearly triple to about 1.5 billion, that is, 16% of the world’s population.
Closer home, India’s older population of 60 million in 2010 is projected to exceed 227 million by 2050, an increase of nearly 280%.
Myths of Ageing
Two of the strongest myths people link with ageing are:
- Our brains shrink and die a bit each moment
- Our mental abilities fail and vanish every day
However, these are just myths, as modern brain science have discovered. The last decade has shown us that our brains are not permanently hard-wired with fixed circuits. Rather, our brains are plastic – they can remodel and rewire themselves in response to injury, training and life events. This constant adaptability of the brain is called Neuroplasticity.
Using neuroplasticity, by changing our lifestyles, we can delay the loss of our mental (cognitive) abilities. Several studies have found that we can push back the decline of our cognitive abilities can by 5 to 10 years by increasing our social connections, physical exercise and mental jogging.
Challenges of Ageing
How much an old person can contribute to their family and society depends heavily on one thing – their health. Being in good health is the greatest task of old age.Being in good health is the greatest task of old age. Click To Tweet
But there are other challenges too. A survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) found these common challenges experienced by older people:
- Maintaining health and fitness
- Maintaining social networks and activities
- Feelings of sadness and loss
- Ensuring financial security
- Decreases in mobility
- Increased reliance on others
Factors of Healthy Ageing
Drawing from three separate longevity studies that tracked the lives of 824 people, mostly male Harvard graduates, for more than 50 years, beginning in their teens, George Vaillant counts the factors that ‘do’ affect healthy ageing:
- Smoking: Quitting smoking by 45 or “not being a heavy smoker before age 50” the single most important predictive factor that influenced healthy ageing.
- Mature abilities to adapt to situations: Vaillant called these “mature defenses,” and found them to be the second most powerful predictor of healthy aging.
- No alcohol abuse: This was found to be a factor that influenced both physical as well as psychological health.
- Healthy body weight: Obesity was found to be related to bad physical health, but had no effect on psychological health.
- Stable marriage: A stable marriage influenced both physical and psychological health.
- Regular exercise: Physical exercise was linked to both physical and psychological health.
- Better and higher education: According to Vaillant, education facilitates physical and psychological health by fostering an “appreciation of the causal connections between personal behaviors and their consequences.”
Vaillant also found there were some factors that do ‘not’ influence our healthy ageing:
- Parents’ and grandparents’ age: Vaillant found that by age 70 to 75, there was no difference in ancestral longevity between those who were happy-well and those who were sad-sick.
- Warm childhood environment: The studies did not find any correlation between the psychological adjustment in young adulthood and healthy aging.
- Stable childhood temperament: “After age 70 childhood temperament did not distinguish the happy-well from the sad-sick.”
- Social class of parents: The social class of the parents and childhood family do not hold any sway among the older adults.
- Cholesterol levels at 50: Vaillant found that cholesterol levels “at age 50 did not distinguish the happy-well from the sad-sick or even from the prematurely dead.”
- Stress: The study found that the physical and psychosomatic symptoms related to stress before 50 did not correlate with physical health at 75.
Here’s an excellent paper on healthy ageing by Ann Bowling and Paul Dieppe: What is successful ageing and who should define it?
Benefits of Ageing
Ageing can have many rewards.
A longer life brings with it new opportunities to serve others, not only for their families, but also for their communities and societies. After all, older adults who are happy and relatively healthy can become assets to their communities rather than burdens (Allen, 2008).
- Anxiety attacks and depressive episodes happen less frequently. Older people feel fewer negative (as well as positive) emotions.
- With age, we also get more optimistic. With age, you also feel more contented with your life and better connected with others. Your bonds with people become deeper and more satisfying.
- Age comes with valuing time more.
- Older people choose more meaningful relationships. They are less impulsive in creating new contacts.
- They can see interpersonal problems from many points of view.
- They also become better advisers, honed by temperance and experience.
- People who are hundred years or older believe that negative feelings are better linked to more health and physical activity. This can be explained. They are more concerned with what negative effects will later arrive with any excess in the present. For example, they avoid too much of food, fun, activity, and even sad events, to jeopardize their health.
Growing Gracefully: Ageing Positively
Positive ageing is a term used to describe the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age. — Australian Psychological Society
Positive ageing is about making the golden years of your life healthy and fruitful, engaging and meaningful. Though those who age positively have longer lives, positive ageing is more about quality than quantity.
Those at 50 who hold positive self-perception, live upto 7.5 years longer. This effect is so strong that it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female, came from higher or lower social and economic class, live alone or not. (Levy, 2002)
Ageing can be delayed or managed in a healthy way in a number of ways. Here are 7 ways to age gracefully:
- Positive Attitude: Keeping a positive and optimistic outlook towards events and people around you, and feeling positive about life itself, can help you get more out of your years. Positive attitude increases longevity. Engage with life and maintain activities that are more meaningful to you. Discover the meaning of your life if you haven’t already. You can age positively by keeping a positive attitude. This also helps to have a far more enjoyable quality of life.
•» Stay focused on the positives of life.
- Stress: High levels of stress can cause damage to your psychological and physical self. Stress also pulls down your immunity, and makes you more prone to illnesses. Create environments where you can feel safe, stay in control, and make choices. Take care of your finances as the lack of it can be a toxic source of stress. Accept your boundaries; do not take up any bit more than you can handle. And don’t worry your head off – let life happen.
•» Keep yourself as much free from stress as possible. Practice mindfulness.
- Social Connections: Maintain your contacts with others by joining clubs or going to places where those of your age gather, as parks for morning or evening walks. Keep in touch with your family. Build meaningful relationships that nurture you. Also, remember to respect others’ choices and do not step on their toes.
Don’t let go of your social connections. Do not isolate yourself.
- Brain activity: Carrying out tasks that give your brain a workout are important to keep your thinking sharp. It can as simple as reading books or listening to audiobooks, solving a crossword or sudoku, learning new skills as origami or chess. Always believe that you can keep learning and remembering.
•» Keep your brain alert, active, and flexible.
- Exercise: Physical exercise is a proven way to increase your productivity and health in your golden years. Exercise keeps your mind active and fresh, increases your mobility and balance, brings a more optimistic outlook towards life, and, of course, reduces the risks of several illnesses. Strength training can help maintain muscle mass, which can then delay care dependency and reverse frailty.
•» Stay active. Take up 30 min of moderate exercise every day.
- Food: Old age is a prime time to value the importance of healthy and nutritious food. Eat less amounts. Include fresh foods in your diet. Ask your doctor or nutritionist for advice on what foods you can have and what to avoid. As scientists have found, the brain foods – seafood, beans, nuts, and greens – can help keep your mental sharpness intact to a great extent.
•» Eat for health and energy rather than taste and pleasure.
- Medical diary: Keep a diary of your medical checkups and doctor appointments. Set up reminders so as not to miss them. Stop any unhealthy habits or addictions you might have, as smoking or drinking. Ask for psychological help whenever you feel you’re unable to cope with a situation with peace of mind. Never miss your medical checkups and doctor visits.
•» Seek regular help of your doctor and other health professionals.
We believe there is no typical age of an old person. All that reference to 65 years and more to mean old age is just a current notion, and it’s a stigmatized one. In future, when they are more, we feel they should use their numbers to find a more inspiring term to call themselves.
Grow old along with me – the best is yet to be. — Robert Browning, 1864
The human race is getting older.
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