By Bev Bachel
Our society shuns aging and favors youth.
That’s no secret, but what should you and I do with this real yet unfortunate truth?
Develop an “aging with gusto” mindset.
“How we think about aging has a big impact on how we age,” says Donna Comer, coordinator/facilitator for Aging with Gusto, a Vital Aging Network program focused on how we can maintain positive views of ourselves and others as we grow older.
Such views can be extremely powerful. In fact, research shows that people with more positive views of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those with more negative views.
What’s more, people who perceive their elder selves as a burden to others tend to view their lives as less valuable, which in turn increases their risk of depression and social isolation, both of which have proven to be “silent killers” for older adults.
Positive views matter
“Growing older does offer challenges,” acknowledges Comer. “But raising awareness of aging and increasing appreciation for how people of all ages contribute to our families and our communities is an essential first step in adopting a more positive view of both retirement and aging.”
Comer isn’t the only one who thinks so. So does Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP and author of Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. In the book and on the Disrupt Aging website, Jenkins stresses that we’re not only living longer, but better. And we’re defying stereotypes along the way.
That was exactly the point made at an arts and aging conference I attended several years back. The keynote speaker invited volunteers from the audience to join him on stage and to act out what 70, 80 and 90 looked like. The volunteer pretending to be 70 took baby steps as she walked onto the stage. The one pretending to be 80 hobbled with a cane, stopping every few feet to catch his breath, while the one pretending to be 90 relied on a make-believe wheelchair.
Then, an actual 90-year-old (a marathoner, it turned out) came running from the back of the auditorium and hopped onto the stage, instantly shattering the audience’s misperceptions of what “old” looks and acts like.
AARP made a similar point in a video it developed in which millennials were asked to demonstrate what old looks like: struggling to send a text message, inching their way down an imaginary flight of stairs and unable to do even a single pushup. Then, the millennials met with real older adults who were able to perform these and other more ambitious tasks effortlessly.
The millennials were amazed. But they shouldn’t have been. While aging often comes with ageism—the tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention or unsuitable for employment—the two don’t have to go hand in hand. Nor should they.
That’s the point longevity expert Dan Buettner makes in The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. According to his research, if you want to add years and perhaps decades to your life, embrace these nine habits:
- Move naturally.People in Blue Zones live in environments that nudge them to move without thinking much about it, rather than separating fitness into a specific hour of their day.
- Power up your purpose.Called “Ikigai” by the Okinawans, your purpose gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Find it, and you’ll live about seven years longer.
- Downshift. People in Blue Zones slow down to pray, take naps, manage their stress, cherish their ancestors and come together for happy hours.
- Stop eating before you’re full.Eat your smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
- Eat plants. While some people in the Blue Zones eat meat, most don’t. And those who do eat it do so only a few times each month.
- Drink wine.Blue Zonians drink one or two glasses of wine a day with friends and family.
- Belong to a faith community. Blue Zones research shows that attending faith-based services four times a month can add up to 14 years to your life.
- Put loved ones first. Aging parents and grandparents often live near or even in the same home as their children and grandchildren. This lowers disease and mortality rates.
- Find the right crowd. Those who live the longest are part of active social circles that support healthy behaviors.
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