Positive Aging: 7 Most Helpful Ways To Grow Old Gracefully

The world is aging faster than you believe. The human race is aging at an alarming pace. You and I will get old far sooner than we think.

Human life expectancy has grown by more than 20 years since 1950. Today, there are more 80- and 90-year-olds than ever before.

It has created a new challenge—taking care of the elderly for their housing needs to healthcare demands.

At the social level, we need a dedicated program for positive aging. At the individual level, the solution is to age positively, successfully, and gracefully.

The power of positive ageing lies in growing old meaningfully, usefully, and gracefully. It is more about having a decent quality of life in old age, rather than looking “ageless.” It means being helpful to others around and relying as little as possible on others for activities of daily living (ADL).

Positive ageing methods enable seniors to be more self-sufficient, have fewer illnesses, and preserve mental sharpness until late in their lives.

What Is Positive Aging?

Positive aging includes cultivating a positive mindset, engaging constructively with others, and remaining as functional as one’s age allows. It uses multimodal interventions to maintain good physical, mental, and social health in old age. Positive psychology has shown there are methods to age positively.

When we adopt positive aging strategies, we don’t have to battle the aging process. Instead, we find it easier to prepare for and accept the limitations of our golden years.

Let’s take a look at how you may help yourself and your parents to age gracefully and positively.

7 Principles of Positive Ageing From Positive Psychology

Positive ageing research shows how to age successfully while limiting the risk of becoming a burden to others, with a focus on psychological well-being and enjoyment. With positive ageing, any senior today can handle the majority of the challenges of old age.

Here are 7 strategies based on positive psychology to help stay positive about aging, and age healthily in both mind and body:

1. Stay focused on the positives of life. Stay grateful.

Keeping a glass-half-full, or optimistic, outlook toward the future and feeling enthusiastic about life itself can help you get more out of your years. A 2019 study found that an optimistic attitude can help people live up to 15% longer and have a better chance of living to 85 or more.

You can age positively also by cultivating and keeping a growth mindset.

A positive mental attitude can also increase longevity.

According to a 2019 study, positive thinking can result in an 11–15 percent longer life and a greater possibility of living to the age of 85 or older. This effect persisted after controlling for age, gender, income, depression, and health condition.

Engage with life proactively and try to commit yourself to a few meaningful activities that are useful to you as well as others. Over time, this will help others see you as a helpful person to have around.

Discover the meaning and purpose of your life, if you haven’t already. It will help you have a far more enjoyable and fulfilling life.

•» So, keep a positive and optimistic attitude. Practice gratitude.

Positive Ageing
In picture: Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist-author, died in August 2015, surrounded by close friends and family, at his home in Greenwich Village.


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He was 82 years old. He spent his final days doing things he enjoyed, such as playing the piano, swimming, eating smoked salmon, and writing.

The New York Times referred to him as ‘the poet laureate of medicine.’

In Gratitude, his last book, Oliver Sacks reflects on and expresses his gratitude for a life well spent, as well as his thoughts on growing old, fighting terminal cancer, and reaching the end.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and travelled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

— Oliver Sacks

2. Keep your brain alert, active, and flexible.

Carrying out tasks that give your brain a workout is vital to keep your thinking sharp. It could be as simple as reading books or listening to audiobooks, solving a crossword or Wordle, learning new skills like clay modeling or origami, or playing chess.

Choose games you have fun playing, as you will be more likely to play them more often without getting frustrated. If you never liked chess, then do not start because someone suggested you should.

Intermittently change the types of activities to keep your interest, balance, and flow.

You could also go on virtual tours of cities and places and fill your brain with ideas and visuals from new cultures and people. For example, you could tour The National Museum of Natural History.

live-life-with-vitality-elaine-obrien

Always believe and practice that you can keep learning and remembering, whatever your age. Our brain can reshape its parts according to demands on it — scientists call this neuroplasticity.

•» So, regularly engage your brain in stimulating activities.

3. Keep yourself free from stress as much as possible.

High levels of stress can cause damage to your psychological and physical self. Chronic stress can pull down your immunity and make you more prone to illnesses. Create environments where you can feel safe, stay in control, and make choices.

Take prudent care of your money — as the lack of finances can be a toxic source of stress. Learn the science-based secrets to shopping for happiness.

Stop overthinking and worrying your head off. Learn how to practice mindfulness and let life happen. Accept your limitations; do not take up any bit more than you can handle. Learn to say ‘No’ to people who demand too much from you.

Jim Rohn famously said you’re the average of the five people you spend your most time with. When you hang out with optimistic people, you are more likely to feel energized, hopeful, and cared for. But also remember to set boundaries with people who drain your positive energy.

•» So, try to keep your stress levels low.

4. Stay active. Do 30 min of moderate exercise every day

Physical exercise is a proven way to increase your productivity and health in your golden years, and drive away your old-age blues.

Exercise keeps your mind active and fresh, increases your mobility and balance, brings a more optimistic outlook toward life, and, of course, reduces the risks of several illnesses. Strength training can help maintain muscle mass, which can then reverse frailty and delay dependency on caregivers.

•» So, exercise your body regularly.

5. Don’t let go of your social connections. Don’t isolate yourself

Maintain your contact with others by joining clubs or going to places where those of your age gather, such as community parks, for morning or evening walks.

Keep in touch with your family and people who care about you. Even if you feel they have abandoned you because they got too busy, maintain contact with your family. Build meaningful relationships that nurture you.

A recent study showed that when one person in a couple-relationship avoids distress and conflicts, the other tries to do the same. And conversely, when one person seeks personal growth and meaningful experiences, the other wants to achieve them too.

Also, remember to respect others’ choices and try not to step on their toes.

•» So, maintain your social connections.

6. Eat for health and energy rather than for taste and pleasure

Old age is a prime time to value the importance of healthy and nutritious food.

Include fresh foods in your diet to help yourself stay happier. Ask your doctor or dietician for advice on what foods you can have and what to avoid. Record your food allergies clearly in your medical diary, as “Allergic to peanuts, eggs, and eggplant.”

As scientists have found, brain foodsseafood, beans, nuts, and greens—can help keep your mental sharpness intact to a great extent.

Examples of positive aging:

The Japanese island Okinawa is one of the blue zones of planet Earth. Blue zones are places where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives.

Okinawa has men and women with the longest life expectancy in the world. The Okinawan men expect to live to about 84, while the women to almost 90. They have a growing community of people aged 100 years or more who are healthy in their day-to-day lives.

They routinely practice Hara Hachi Bu.

This is the practice of eating less than what makes one feel full. It means eating up to the point when your stomach is roughly 80% full.

Researchers say this helps the digestive system churn and pound the food better, and move it down the gut faster.

•» So, eat more healthily and sparsely.

Dispelling Beauty Myths: Aging With Grace | Allure
Dispelling Beauty Myths: Aging With Grace

7. Seek regular help from your doctor and other health professionals

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, like smoking or drinking.

Ask for psychological help whenever you feel you are unable to cope with a situation with peace of mind. Never miss your medical checkups and doctor visits.

•» So, keep a medical diary and attend your medical check-ups.

Don’t waste so much time worrying about your skin or your weight. Develop what you do, what you put your hands on in the world.

— Meryl Streep, known as the “best actress of her generation”
Positive Aging is about

Positive Aging Movement

The aging process is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t age well. Science and society are moving quickly to help ageing people in maintaining a high quality of life and functionality.

Positive aging does not mean postponing or hiding the signs and effects of aging.

It is less about how well we can escape the inevitable hardships of aging and more about how well we can focus on making our latter years meaningful.

Positive psychology research has revealed strategies for dealing with major life changes in the late years of life. It shows us how to stay useful and helpful to ourselves and to others when we get old.

Positive aging research analyses older people’s psychological well-being and physical health, and provides us insights as to how to have better health in old age.

According to the MIDUS (Midlife in the United States) findings, psychosocial factors such as purpose in life, social relationships, and prosocial acts such as volunteering, predict better self-rated health.

Those factors also predict better biological risk profiles, greater well-being, and better cognitive function in aging people, even when an old person has a disability or chronic illness.

Positive ageing is a multifaceted concept that includes physical, functional, social, and psychological well-being. Its primary focus is on how to increase functional years in old age.

It gives us the courage and skill to face the physical, social, and emotional issues of old age.

Successful-Aging-ACTA-90-359
Dimensions of successful aging. Modified from Fernandez-Ballesteros 2019

Positive aging consists of five independent factors: health, cognition, activity, affect, and physical fitness. … The basic notion is that at any age, including the old and very old, people are to some extent in charge of and responsible for their own quality of life. They can enjoy positive well-being and experience “successful aging.”

Liora Bar-Tur

Ageism And Other Challenges of Aging

Unfortunately, today’s kids have a negative attitude toward the elderly, almost universally. They do this while forgetting that they too will have to live as old people for many, many years.

Let’s take stock of some heartbreaking facts about old age. A WHO survey revealed that young people hold a strong undertone of negativity towards old age and old people. This discrimination on the basis of one’s age is called ageism.

Such a stance of ageism can critically affect the physical and mental health of the elderly. The older people, made to feel like a burden on society, start to value their lives less worthy. This pushes them into high-risk zones of depression and social isolation, both of which can shorten lives.

Elderly people have long been held as “irrelevant” and an economic drain on society, particularly in the West. Growing old in the 21st century is difficult and risky, and effective coping with age-related issues is critical to successful aging.

The challenges related to aging, as a survey by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) found, are:

  • Maintaining social networks and activities
  • Maintaining health and fitness
  • Increased reliance on others
  • Feelings of sadness and loss
  • Ensuring financial security
  • Decreases in mobility

Positive aging involves successfully managing the above challenges and making the senior years healthy, fruitful, graceful, and meaningful.

How to Age Gracefully | CBC Radio
The power of positive aging

Today, seniors form a sizable part of the world population. People today are living much longer lives, and more are surviving to a ripe old age than even a few decades ago.

The World Health Organization estimates the number of people aged 60+ would reach 2 billion globally by 2050.

In 2015, the elderly accounted for only 12% of all people on earth, or 0.9 billion people. By 2050, that figure will have nearly doubled, accounting for 22 percent of the world’s population then.

Year20152050
World population7.5 billion9.1 billion
Older population0.9 billion2.0 billion
‘Oldie’ percentage12 percent22 percent
Table: How much of humanity is old?

If we include the above age-positive interventions into our lives, we can age successfully, live our sunset years in good health, and grow old with poise and grace.

On the flip side, when society adopts a positive attitude towards our seniors, they feel more valued, positive, and optimistic.

Science shows that those who stay positive about aging have better longevity. In return, our seniors use some of those extra years to pay back to society with their productivity, experience, and wisdom.

world population ageing report 2015
World Population Ageing Report, 2015

Positive Words For Aging

The human population today has a vastly bigger share of old people than ever before. To keep that going, we must learn how to age positively and gracefully.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect who built 1000 structures and lived up to 92 years, said,

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”

And Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the ‘Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century’ said,

“Age is … a limitation you put on your mind.”

The Australian Psychological Society says about positive ageing:

Positive aging is … the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.

positive-quote-aging-chekhov

Further Reading

Book

Guy Robertson’s book 10 Steps To Positive Aging lays out ten steps for living a happy and satisfying old age. The exercises in this handbook engage the psychological and emotional aspects of aging for healthy and positive senior years.

Positive aging articles

  1. Positive Aging – George E. Vaillant, Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting Human Flourishing in Work, Health, Education, and Everyday Life, 2015. Link: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118996874.ch35
  2. Growing Older Without Aging? Positive Aging, Anti-Ageism, and Anti-Aging, Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging – Stephen Katz, 2001. Link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26555099
  3. Video Games for Positive Aging: Playfully Engaging Older Adults – Sasha Blue Godfrey & Giacinto Barresi, Internet of Things for Human-Centered Design, 2022. Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-8488-3_18
  4. Fostering Well-Being in the Elderly: Translating Theories on Positive Aging to Practical Approaches – Liora Bar-Tur, 2021. Link: https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2021.517226
  5. Positive Aging: The Impact of a Community Wellbeing and Resilience Program – Jonathan D. Bartholomaeus & Joseph E. M. Van Agteren, 2019. Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07317115.2018.1561582

FAQs

How do you promote positive aging?

Positive aging can help individuals to feel more connected to their community, more engaged in life, and greater sense of well-being. Here are some ways we can promote positive aging in modern society:
1. Encouraging older adults to stay active and engaged in their communities
2. Supporting programs and services that help older adults to age in place
3. Providing opportunities for intergenerational interaction and exchange
4. Challenging negative stereotypes and assumptions about aging
5. Celebrating the many contributions that older adults make to our society

What are 5 positive things about aging?

While it’s natural to have some concerns about aging, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of growing older. Here are five positive things about aging:
1. We gain wisdom and perspective.
2. We appreciate life and relationships more.
3. We learn to accept and love ourselves more.
4. We become more confident, patient, and tolerant.
5. We develop a greater sense of humor.

What is a Depopulation Crisis?

When deaths outnumber births, which is expected to happen as early as 2025, it results in a depopulation crisis.

As deaths will outnumber births, we will need new measures to deal with an aging population. Longer life spans, with studies predicting a 100-year life cycle on the horizon, coupled with falling fertility rates in wealthy countries indicate that societies are rapidly aging, with many soon unable to support their elderly population.

Increasing aging populations exacerbate the challenge of resource depletion. A declining and aging population will necessitate economic solutions to problems like paying and staffing the overburdened healthcare system, modifying housing for the elderly, and dealing with a smaller workforce to tax.

Final Words

Positive ageing is the embracing of ageing as a normal and healthy part of life. Here are a few takeaways from this:

  • The goal of positive ageing is to be able to go about our daily lives with as little help as possible.
  • It is about being helpful to others around us rather than becoming a burden to our caregivers.
  • It is also about preserving and even enhancing our physical and mental health as we grow older.
  • Every person can prepare for positive ageing by making better short-term choices that will improve their life in the long run.

The elderly population is defined as people aged 65 and over. But we believe there is no typical age of an old person. All that reference to 65+ years to mean old age is just a current notion, and it’s a stigmatized one.

In the future, when they are more, we feel they should use their sheer numbers to find a more inspiring term to call themselves.

Remember, the human race is aging at an alarming pace. You and I will get old far sooner than we think.

• • •

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.


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