Positive Aging: 7 Hacks To Grow Old Gracefully

The world today has more old people than ever before.

Medical advances and better living conditions are extending lifespans. Today, more people are reaching their 80s and 90s than ever before in human history.

While this is a remarkable achievement, it also brings the challenge of meeting their housing and healthcare needs.

Many seniors now require age-friendly amenities, both in public spaces and at home. Unfortunately, governments and social institutions in many countries are struggling to keep up.

However, seniors can take proactive steps to age gracefully without relying too much on these facilities. The secret lies in positive psychology — Positive Aging.

Positive aging is living life to the fullest as you grow older, modifying your attitudes and lifestyle choices to optimize your physical and emotional well-being.

Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist and author, epitomized positive aging. At 82 years old, he spent his final days playing the piano, swimming, eating smoked salmon, and writing.

7 Positive Aging Strategies To Grow Old Gracefully

The Australian Psychological Society says, “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.”

Research in Positive Psychology can help seniors handle many challenges of old age. Moreover, these strategies can guide our younger ones to help their parents age gracefully and positively.

Here are 7 strategies to grow old gracefully:

1. Stay Positive, Optimistic, & Grateful

Think Positive

Positive thinking and positive aging are closely related.

Positive thinking is focusing on the good and working for a change while expecting things to go well. It is not about ignoring reality or making light of problems.

Focus on the good things in life and believe that good things can happen. You will enjoy your years more and avoid becoming a burden to others.

Be Optimistic

People with a glass-half-full outlook live longer and happier lives.

A 2019 study found that having an optimistic attitude can help people live up to 15% longer and increase their chances of living to 85 or beyond.

So, surround yourself with people who see things with optimism. Feel their energy and hopefulness lift your spirits and willpower.

Show Gratitude

Gratitude decreases stress. And increases happiness, life satisfaction, and joy from relationships. An attitude of gratitude also makes you better at coping with tough times.

This study found that gratitude correlated with less depression, lower blood pressure, more optimism, and better sleep.

Grateful people feel thankful and appreciative more times a day and across more life situations.

  • Thank people often. Give thanks in prayer. Meditate.
  • Keep a gratitude diary to write down the good things in your life.
  • Appreciate the positive things you come across each day (count your blessings).
  • Write a gratitude letter to thank someone. Even if you don’t give it to them, you’ll feel happier.

In his last book, Gratitude, Oliver Sacks, “the poet laureate of medicine,” expressed gratitude for a life well spent:

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. … 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
Positive Aging Strategies
Oliver Sacks, British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and writer

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

To keep your brain active and flexible, give it regular challenges. Choose activities you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick with them.

“Our brains shrink or atrophy slowly over time, primarily in the white matter, where connections between brain areas are located.”

— Dr. Ethan Russo
  • Read books and articles that expand your knowledge.
  • Play word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and games that test your skills, like chess or video games.
  • Explore virtual tours of cities, museums, and cultures to get fresh food for thought.

Our brain can reshape its parts according to demands on it — a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.

  • So, rotate your activities to maintain interest, balance, and flow, to boost your neuroplasticity.
  • And, always believe and practice that you can keep learning and remembering, whatever your age.
live-life-with-vitality-elaine-obrien

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

High levels of stress can damage your psychological and physical health, lowering your immunity and making you more prone to illnesses.

  • Stop overthinking and worrying. Practice mindfulness.
  • Take on fewer responsibilities than you think you can handle.
  • Accept your limitations and stop micromanaging every little thing.
  • Say ‘No’ more often to people who demand your time or drain your energy. Set boundaries.
  • Keep your stress low by creating environments where you feel safe and in control of your choices.

Let life happen.

Money problems can be particularly stressful in old age.

  • Don’t waste your limited resources on unnecessary items.
  • Shop for your happiness, not because your peers are doing so.
  • Take good care of your finances and avoid scammers who prey on your kindness or vulnerability.
  • Try to create a recurring stream of income that doesn’t require regular input, such as reverse-mortgaging your house.

4. Stay active. Exercise 30 minutes daily.

Staying active is key to aging well. It is painful to slip and end up immobile, needing help from others.

Regular exercise makes your muscles and bones stronger, and improves your balance, flexibility, and coordination. These, in turn, lower your risk of falls and injuries, as well as the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.

Exercise releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, which boost happiness, resilience, and improve sleep.

To stay graceful, lithe, and strong in your golden years:

  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week.
  • Join a group to stay motivated to exercise every day. It also helps fulfill your socializing needs.
  • Strength training can build muscle mass, which can reverse muscle weakness and delay dependency on caregivers. Do it under expert supervision.

5. Maintain social connections. Avoid isolating yourself.

Keep in touch with people as you grow older. The joy that your friends and support groups bring to your heart lasts long after meeting them.

But old age often becomes a lonely time. Especially if friends become home bound or family restricts social outings for health reasons.

One way to stay connected is by joining clubs or going to places where those of your age gather, such as community parks, for morning or evening walks.

A 2020 study found that when one person in a couple-relationship avoids distress and conflicts, the other tries to do the same.

  • Seek personal growth and meaningful experiences to inspire your partner.
  • Build relationships that nurture you. Avoid people who want to harm or trick you.
  • Set respectful boundaries. Respect others’ choices and try not to step on their toes.
  • Keep in touch with family, even if busy. Don’t push away those who genuinely care for you.
  • Be open to new relationships, but don’t share too much with them until you get to know them well.

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 stay happier.
  • Clearly record any food allergies in your medical diary.
  • Avoid foods that will take a toll on your digestive system, like spicy foods.
  • Brain foods like seafood, beans, nuts, and greens can help maintain mental sharpness.
  • Keep a ready source of healthy foods to reach out for when you feel hungry at odd hours, instead of stocking up on processed foods.
  • Stop eating when you are 80% full. Researchers say this helps the digestive system churn and pound the food better, and move it down the gut faster.

Consult your doctor or dietician for advice on what foods to eat and avoid.

    Okinawan Blue Zone & Hara Hachi Bu

    Blue zones are regions where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. The Japanese island of Okinawa is one such blue zone.

    Okinawans live unusually long lives — men expect to live to about 84, while women to almost 90. Many of them are over 100 years old and remain healthy and active in their daily lives.

    They routinely practice Hara Hachi Bu—eating less than what makes one feel full, or eating up to the point when the stomach is roughly 80% full.

    The Art of Hara Hachi Bu: 10 Principles of Okinawan Eating
    10 Principles of Okinawan Eating

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

    Stop any unhealthy habits or addictions you might have, like smoking or drinking.

    Keep track of your medical conditions. Inform others about your illnesses (create and wear a medical issue or medical alert card).

    Maintain a location to keep your medical records and appointments. Mark the location with a visible pointer, such as an arrow.

    • Keep a diary of your medical issues and doctor appointments.
    • Do not miss your medical checkups and doctor visits. Set up reminders so as not to miss them.
    • Ask for help from a mental health professional whenever you feel you are unable to cope with a situation with peace of mind.
    Positive Aging is about

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

    What Is Positive Aging?

    Positive aging means cultivating a positive and optimistic mindset and staying socially engaged and physically active in the senior years. This holistic approach to aging helps promote physical, mental, and social well-being. Positive psychology offers many strategies for aging usefully and gracefully, letting us enjoy our golden years.

    Positive aging is embracing old age as a natural and fulfilling stage of life while pursuing physical, mental, and spiritual growth. Growing old healthy and happy is both a science and an art.

    10 Principles of Positive Ageing

    What do you think helps make a successful transition into old age? It is first of all about a change in mindset to keep yourself relevant among the younger generation.

    Here are the 10 principles of positive aging:

    1. Acceptance: Accepting aging as a natural and positive part of life.
    2. Active engagement: Staying engaged in life through activities and relationships.
    3. Adaptability: Being open to change and adapting to new circumstances.
    4. Purpose: Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
    5. Personal growth: Continuously seeking opportunities for personal growth and development.
    6. Positive attitudes: Cultivating a positive outlook and attitudes towards aging.
    7. Physical activity: Engaging in physical activity to maintain health and well-being.
    8. Relationships: Building and maintaining meaningful relationships with others.
    9. Self-care: Practicing self-care to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
    10. Spirituality: Connecting with a higher power or sense of purpose to enhance overall well-being.

    3 Ways To Boost Positivity In Seniors

    How to get old gracefully and joyfully? Here are three ways to boost positivity in older adults:

    1. Stay physically active: Physical activity can improve both physical and mental health, and is a great way to boost positivity in seniors. This can include simple exercises, such as walking, stretching, or yoga.
    2. Maintain social connections: Strong relationships and social connections can help seniors feel supported, valued, and connected to their communities, leading to greater positivity. Encouraging seniors to participate in community events, join social clubs, or connect with friends and family can help boost their positivity.
    3. Cultivate a growth mindset: Encouraging seniors to embrace new experiences, learning opportunities, and personal growth can help them maintain a positive outlook and a sense of purpose. This can include activities like volunteering, learning a new skill, or taking up a new hobby.

    Positive Psychology And Aging: 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 aging people in maintaining a high quality of life and functionality.

    Aging successfully 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

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

    How to Age Gracefully | CBC Radio

    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

    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.”

    positive-quote-aging-chekhov

    What are 5 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 more people die than are born, expected to happen as early as 2025, it creates depopulation crisis. This means fewer people available to support an aging population, which is set to live longer than ever before. This leads to resource depletion, and with a smaller workforce, the burden on healthcare and other industries will be enormous.

    Further Reading

    1. Positive Aging – George E. Vaillant, Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting Human Flourishing in Work, Health, Education, and Everyday Life, 2015. Link: Positive Aging, George E. Vaillant, 2015
    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

    Final Words

    Positive aging is about being less dependent on others for daily activities by being mentally and physically agile, more than looking ‘ageless’ outside.

    It means:

    • Being able to go about your daily lives with as little help as possible.
    • Being helpful to others rather than becoming a burden to caregivers.
    • Preserving and enhancing physical and mental health as you grow older.

    The elderly people are defined as those aged 65 and over. But I believe there is no typical age of an old person. That is a distasteful idea. We should find a more inspiring term to call them.

    The world’s population is aging faster than you think. We will get old sooner than we think.

    • • •

    What Forgiveness Is Not (And What It Actually Is)?

    • • •

    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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