Medicine, technology, and a better understanding of the process of aging are helping people live longer lives. How people occupy their time as they grow older is also changing.
The percentage of Americans who remain employed after reaching the age of 65 has doubled in the last 35 years. Older workers are more likely to be self-employed than younger workers. Their earnings tend to be better and they are generally more satisfied with their work than younger workers.
Older adults who have retired are more active than ever. Rather than being limited by admonitions to “act your age,” seniors are increasingly likely to break barriers that were once associated with aging. Defying stereotypes, older Americans have embraced social media to stay connected with family and friends. A significant percentage of seniors are using online dating sites to improve their social lives.
Living your best life after turning 65 may take some effort, but that’s true at any age. Here are some New Year’s resolutions that may help older adults extend their lifespans and maximize their enjoyment of their senior years.
1. Reject negative stereotypes about aging
Older adults tend to be less active, and thus less healthy, when they internalize harmful stereotypes about aging. Studies have found that seniors who maintain positive self-perceptions of aging are healthier and live longer than who have negative attitudes about aging.
Refocusing the perception of aging begins with self-awareness. Rather than looking in the mirror and fretting about a new wrinkle, ask yourself why wrinkles are upsetting. While wrinkles are a natural part of the aging process, they have no adverse impact upon health, energy, or cognitive ability. Reframe your wrinkles as evidence of a life well lived.
Rid yourself of negative references to aging. Self-deprecating references to having “a senior moment” associate memory lapses with age despite their occurrence at all stages of life. Referring to yourself and other aging individuals as “over the hill” or “old and tired” reinforce the negative aspects of aging. Think of yourself as vital, not as old.
2. Find new ways to exercise
People who enjoyed running or playing basketball for most of their lives may find that knee or hip pain limits their exercise options. That should not be an excuse to stop exercising. Years of research establish that regular exercise is associated with longer lives. The relationship between exercise, fitness, and lifespan is “especially notable in older people and people with high blood pressure.”
If joint pain or fatigue make it difficult to participate in vigorous sports, think about taking up golf or pickleball. Regular swimming, walking, bicycling, and water aerobics can provide the elevated heart rate that promotes cardiovascular health. Strength training improves endurance, flexibility, and balance. Older adults with significant health problems should work with their physician to find an exercise plan that they can safely follow.
3. Improve your diet
The link between a good diet and good health is well established. A recent study suggests that reducing calorie intake slows aging and promotes longevity.
For many people, the best strategy to reduce calories is to avoid sugary drinks and highly processed foods, including chips and most meals from fast food restaurants. Evidence suggests that the risk of dementia can be reduced by eating a diet that emphasizes leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil.
Staying hydrated is part of a healthy diet. Appetite and thirst tend to decrease with age. Medications may also increase the risk of dehydration. Adequate fluid intake helps the body ward off infections and avoid heat stroke, heart problems, and kidney failure.
The amount of water seniors should consume each day varies from person to person, but the National Council on Aging suggests drinking the number of fluid ounces that equals one-third of body weight. That means a 150-pound person might need to drink 50 ounces (or roughly 1.5 liters) of water per day.
4. Develop more social connections
Life satisfaction among older adults is strongly correlated with social interaction. Spending time with friends and family, making new friends, and engaging in social activities reduces anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
Joining with others in purposeful activity has a positive impact on life satisfaction. Volunteering, working at a part-time job, and taking classes are ways of building social networks.
5. Exercise your mind
While strong evidence suggests that physical exercise slows mental decline, it may be just as important to exercise the mind. According to the National Institute on Health, an active mind “may help the brain become more adaptable in some mental functions so it can compensate for age-related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.”
The purposeful social activities discussed above can engage the minds of older adults. Other activities that may be beneficial include solving puzzles, playing strategic games (like chess or sudoku), and learning new skills.