Having recently returned from the excellent International Council on Active Aging Annual Conference in San Diego, I have been thinking about and talking even more than usual about lifestyle 'behavior' and how it relates to independence and quality of life in our 'Second Fifty. Here's the result of all that pondering! Back in 2004 the then Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Richard Cardoma was quoted as saying

“In the next 10 years one of the major issues in Health Care will be moving from receiving health care to embracing health prevention and wellness.”

More relevant to the topic of this article he also said

“Being physically active with a good diet and an active healthy lifestyle will not only do us good as individuals but will also dramatically reduce health care costs.”

These statements, while undeniably true, await more action and commitment from both government and population for their full benefits to be gained, perhaps in part because words like ‘action’ and ‘commitment’ sound like they are hard to do. Whatever the real reasons, the fact is that most seniors - just like other segments of the population - are relatively inactive. The good news, however - and contrary to conventional wisdom - is that adopting a more active, healthy lifestyle does not have to be hard, and is within the grasp of virtually anyone, as I will explain below. I don’t think many people would argue with the statement that the most important thing for all of us as we age is to remain independent and healthy as long as possible. People know this instinctively, of course, and they certainly don’t need research to back up this feeling. However, as someone who has always been curious about such things I am always interested in the ‘how’ ‘what’ and ‘why’. Because of this, I have compiled a series of posts that I hope will act as a sort of mini-primer of lifestyle habits that research has shown to be strongly connected to active, healthy aging. This first post provides a brief overview of ‘Successful Aging’ and nine ‘habits‘ that are correlated with this concept.  Future posts will feature each one of the nine listed below. I am however providing one or two links to get you interested - or maybe get you started! Successful Aging: The term “Successful Aging” was first used by two researchers Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn in their 1998 book of the same name. It summarized, in non-scientific terms, the findings of the decades-long MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging. This study looked at thousands of individuals who (in the author’s words) were ‘aging well.” We all know people like this of course: they look and act much younger than their chronological age, and seem to be far healthier and more active than their peers. The Study on Aging was designed to identify any factors which were common to these ‘Successful Agers’ and which separated them from the majority who were “Usual Agers’. As the authors so succinctly put it

“We were trying to pinpoint the many factors that conspire to put one octogenarian on cross-country skis and another in a wheelchair”

This landmark study identified three overarching elements of Successful Aging: (i) higher mental and physical function (ii) lower risk of disease and disability and (iii) more active engagement with life. In lifestyle terms these three components of Successful Aging can be broken down into specific lifestyle behaviors.

  1. Stay strong: Start a regular resistance training program to increase your strength and endurance. You can use free weights (dumbbells and barbells), weight training machines, or elastic tubing. You are never too old to benefit from this kind of training, and you can see and feel these benefits in as little as 20 minutes twice per week. Begin with four to six exercises that work your major muscle groups. Increase your resistance gradually as you get stronger. The important thing to know is that strength training is safe and effective for the great majority of older adults. Check out this link from the CDC for more details http://bit.ly/WJ2Bl .
  2. Stay physically active: Way back in 1996, The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health told us that walking briskly for a minimum of 30 minutes on most, preferably all days of the week, would provide great health benefits. If 30 minutes sounds like a long time to walk - no problem - you can accumulate this time throughout the day. So, for example, instead of ‘doing the 30’ all at once, you could walk 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. How easy is that?
  3. Maintain normal weight: Easier to say than to do? Not really, if you combine regular moderate intensity physical activity with strength training and a balanced diet you will have the optimal approach to weight management. As a good start to  the ‘what should I eat’ question, check out Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: an eaters manual.“ Lots of great information as well as entertaining to read! His general advice is “Eat Food, not too much, mainly plants.” Read his book to find out what he means! Find it @ http://amzn.to/f53CU8
  4. Adopt good sleep habits: Establish a regular bed- and wake-time schedule that will improve your sleep quality. Avoid coffee or other drinks with stimulants at least 2 hours before sleep. Make your sleep area cool, dark and quiet. Check out the National Sleep Foundations “Sleeping Well Leads to Aging Well” @ http://bit.ly/dqkKsM
  5. Maintain social contacts: Keep in touch with friends and family. Turn off the TV. Have conversations over meals, write letters, email or connect via the internet.  Attend social events and introduce yourself. Start or continue a hobby and search for similar groups in your area. Own a pet and meet people in the dog park! Give and receive hugs! Check out my blog post “With a little help from your friends” @ http://bit.ly/aanXz3
  6. Keep an alert and curious mind: Learn a new skill. Expand your horizons. Participate in classes and conversations, keep up with the news, have an opinion - and share it.
  7. Be self vigilant: Regularly check your overall physical, mental and medical condition. Ask yourself “How do I feel?” and listen to the answer. Establish a good relationship with your doctor and follow up with him or her if your self-check reveals something of concern.
  8. Engage with your environment: Look for ways to contribute. Volunteer for services such as “Meals on Wheels,” senior center programs, church groups and civic, or intergenerational organizations. Become involved with social or community programs that are interesting to you. Be a provider as well as a receiver of support.
  9. Be Positive: Research has shown that focussing on the positive aspects of being active is far more beneficial than focussing on the negative aspects of not being active. The new field of “Positive Psychology” has also shown that people who have a more optimistic view of things do better in life: they earn more money, are more successful, have more friends and even live longer. And as this wasn’t positive enough, you can even learn to be optimistic. Check out my blog post “Getting Less Bad” @ http://bit.ly/aR9bbQ

NOTE: This post is based on “Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging” an article which appeared in my ”Energize your Aging!” column for the November Newsletter of “Aging with Grace” a nationally renowned aging services company whose mission is to educate, coordinate, and facilitate individualized eldercare options one family at a time. Check out the Newsletter @ http://conta.cc/heorNq

Follow me on TwitterLike me on FacebookBecome my connection on LinkedInRead my articles on OrganizedWisdom