Positive Aging: 7 Things To Do To Age Gracefully

The world is aging faster than you might believe. The human race is aging at an alarming pace.

A middle-aged person today can expect to live 20 years longer than a middle-aged person in 1950. Modern medical advances have made this possible.

As a result, the world now has more people aged 80 and 90 than ever before. Our new challenge is taking care of them, from housing needs to healthcare demands.

So, if we want our seniors to thrive, we need positive aging on both a social and individual level.

While government policies control senior-friendly facilities at the social level, the solution at the individual level is to age positively, successfully, and gracefully.

What Is Positive Aging?

Positive aging involves cultivating a positive and optimistic mindset, engaging constructively with others, and remaining as functional as one’s age allows. It uses holistic interventions to promote good physical, mental, and social well-being in old age. Positive psychology has suggested ways to age positively.

We don’t have to fight the aging process when we use positive aging strategies. Instead, we find it easier to predict and accept the limitations of our senior years.

Positive Aging Strategies
Positive Aging Strategies (In pic: Oliver Sacks, British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and writer)

Embrace Your Age: 7 Strategies for “Positive Aging”

With research on positive aging, any senior today can handle the majority of the challenges of old age. You can now help yourself and your parents to age gracefully and positively.

Here are 7 strategies from positive psychology to help you embrace your age:

1. Focus on the positives, stay optimistic, and be grateful.

Optimistic people live longer and happier. An attitude of gratitude increases your life satisfaction.

  • Being optimistic is about having a glass-half-full outlook. When you focus on the positive things in your life and feel that good things can happen, 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 by cultivating and keeping a growth mindset, meaning seeing yourself as a person who can change for the better.
  • Research shows that focusing on your psychological well-being and finding joyful things to do can help you age successfully and avoid being a burden to others.
  • 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.

  • Take a proactive attitude to life by committing to a few meaningful things that will benefit you as well as others. This will help others regard you as a helpful person to have around.

Try to figure out the purpose of your life, if you haven’t already. It can make the rest of your days more fulfilling.

Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist-author (in the picture above) was the epitome of positive aging.

He was 82 years old when he died in August 2015, surrounded by close friends and family. He had spent his final days doing things he enjoyed—playing the piano, swimming, eating smoked salmon, and writing.

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

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

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

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

Carrying out tasks that give your brain a workout is vital for keeping your thinking sharp.

It could be as simple as reading books or listening to audiobooks, solving a crossword or Wordle (a word puzzle game that gives you six chances a day to guess a word), learning new skills like clay modeling or origami, or playing chess.

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

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

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.

Our brain can reshape its parts according to demands on it — scientists call this neuroplasticity.

  • Rotate your activities on a regular basis to maintain your interest, balance, and flow, as well as to boost your brain’s neuroplasticity.
  • Always believe and practice that you can keep learning and remembering, whatever your age.
  • Regularly engage yourself in brain-stimulating activities like word puzzles and jigsaw puzzles.

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.

Keep your stress levels low. Create environments where you can feel safe, stay in control, and make choices.

Let life happen.

  • You don’t need to control or micromanage every little thing anymore.
  • Accept your limitations and take on fewer responsibilities than you think you can handle.
  • Learn to say ‘No’ to people who demand too much from you. Set boundaries with people who drain you.

Choose your friends wisely. Spend time with optimistic people; they are more likely to make you feel energized, hopeful, and cared for.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend your most time with.”

— Jim Rohn

Money problems are a highly toxic cause of stress at any age, but they can be life-sucking in old age.

  • Take good care of your money. Don’t fall victim to scammers who prey on your kindness or weakness.
  • More importantly, don’t waste your limited resources on things you don’t really need. You don’t need to buy anything because your peers are doing so. Instead, learn how to shop for your happiness.
  • Try to create a recurring stream of revenue that does not require your input (like reverse-mortgaging your house.)

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

Falls and slips are more common and more fatal in the elderly.

They can immobilize you for a long time, making you dependent on others.

Exercise increases strength and flexibility, which improves balance and coordination and lowers the chance of falling.

Regular physical activity can help you avoid several diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as boost your overall immune function.

Exercise also releases endorphins (the “feel good” hormones), which act as stress relievers and help you feel happier and more resilient.

Physically active people, regardless of at what point in life they start exercising, have a lower risk of brain dysfunction and dementia.

Exercise helps bring a more optimistic outlook toward life. It can reverse your old-age unhappiness.

Exercise has also been related to better sleep.

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

  • Exercise regularly, for 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week. Even light exercises like walking and non-strenuous yoga can help strengthen your attitude, mind, and body.
  • Try group exercise to help you stay motivated to exercise every day. It can also help you make new friends and fulfill your socializing needs.
  • Strength training can help you maintain muscle mass, which can then reverse muscle weakness and delay dependency on caregivers. But do it only under expert supervision.

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

Old age is a lonely time.

Most of your friends may have become restricted to their homes due to immobility. Or their family may not want them to go out socially because it may be riskier for their health.

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.

Don’t push away people who care for you and want to spend time with you.

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.

A 2020 study showed 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. It can motivate the other person in your relationship to achieve them too.
  • Take care to set these six boundaries. Respect others’ choices and try not to step on their toes.
  • Build meaningful relationships that nurture you. Keep in touch with 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.

Okinawan Blue Zone & Hara Hachi Bu

Blue zones are places where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives.

The Japanese island of Okinawa is one of the blue zones of planet Earth.

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.

  • Eat more healthily and keep 3-4 hours between meals.
  • Avoid foods that will take a toll on your digestive system, like spicy foods.
  • Keep a ready source of fruits to reach out for when you feel hungry at odd hours, instead of stocking up on processed foods.
Dispelling Beauty Myths: Aging With Grace | Allure
Dispelling Beauty Myths: Aging With Grace

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”

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.

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: 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

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

The power of positive aging 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 you and relying as little as possible on others for activities of daily living (ADL).

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

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

  • The goal of positive aging 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 aging 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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