WHAT kind of life do you want to lead? This is such a broad question it is hard to respond beyond something like ‘I just want to be happy’ (not that there is anything wrong with being happy!). However, more definitively, I think that most people would agree that a life of meaning, good health, and independence is something to strive for. Whatever kind of life you want, however, you are probably more likely to achieve it if you are intentional about your ‘wants’ vs just drifting along and letting life happen to you.
For my first post I wanted to provide an overview of the kind of approach that would lead to the kind of life all of us want to lead – to the kind of life where we age ‘Successfully’ vs the ‘Usual’ way. You may be surprised to know that there is a lot of exciting research on this!
In their landmark book “Successful Aging”, (published in 1998 but still highly relevant), renowned aging researchers Dr.’s John Rowe and Robert Kahn summarize the conclusions of the decades long MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging, which investigated the differences between those who were ‘good for their age’ (Successful Agers) and those who weren’t (Usual Agers).
The authors identified 3 overarching conditions that ‘Successful Agers’ demonstrated in comparison to ‘Usual Agers’.
- High mental and physical function
- Low risk of disease and disease related disability
- Active engagement with life
I have expanded these three conditions into 7 ‘Lifestyle Habits’ that anyone can intentionally work towards. I will be writing more about each habit in future posts, but as an introduction to the concept, here they are.
The ‘Seven Habits’
- Stay strong and physically active: Walking is currently the most frequent exercise choice for older adults who are active. However research has clearly shown that strength training (or ‘resistance training’) is essential for maintaining and improving your independence and quality of life. You can significantly improve your strength in as little as 15 minutes of specially designed exercises twice per week.
- Maintain normal weight: Aim for a judicious combination of physical activity, strength and a balanced diet that would include fruits, vegetables and lots of water.
- Adopt good sleep habits: Good sleep is associated with greater attention and focus. Additionally, strength training and moderate physical activity has been shown to improve sleep habits.
- Maintain social contacts: Keep in touch with friends and family, initiate and maintain meaningful relationships, be part of a community, own a pet, give and receive hugs! Get out into the world!
- Keep an alert and curious mind: Use it and improve it! Participate in classes, conversations, keep up with the news, have an opinion.
- Be self vigilant: Regularly self check your overall condition – how do you feel? How have you changed? Establish a good relationship with your doctor.
- Engage with your ‘environment’: In many ways this last ‘habit’ encompasses all of the others and can provide meaning and relevance in your life. Look for ways to ‘contribute’ – volunteer in church, civic, or intergenerational groups, be part of a social or community network. Exercise with friends. Be a provider as well as a receiver of support.
THE QUESTION: As you think about these ‘habits’ – What does Successful Aging look like to you?