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WHO Report: “Active Aging” Can Help You Live Longer and Improve Your Quality of Life

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Ready for a show of hands? Is there anyone reading this Blog article who does not want to live a longer, healthier, more engaged life? We thought so. These days we see articles every week about how to age well. What’s more, the good news seems to be that aging well isn’t all that complicated – but it is intentional.

We recently came across this helpful article on Active Aging on the Fortune magazine website.  In it, reporter Liz Seegert writes about a comprehensive study from no less an authority than the World Health Organization. The WHO study asks several profound questions, including “How do we help people remain independent and active as they age?” and “As people are living longer, how can the quality of life in old age be improved?”  Sounds like they’ve been listening in to Rajiv Nagaich!

The article gives some practical “building blocks” to help promote Active Aging. We think it’s well worth the read.

Active Aging: Not About Jogging and Weight-Lifting

The phrase “active aging” might conjure images of hitting the gym every day or hiking every weekend. But is that what it means?

Not exactly. Writing in Fortune, Seegert explains, “Active aging includes a wide range of pursuits that keep your mind, body, emotions and spirit engaged, regardless of age, health or socioeconomic status, as described in this 60-page report from the World Health Organization (WHO). It also means being diligent about your own health and well-being.”

Colin Milner, the founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, says that following the principles of active aging can have a huge effect on longevity and quality of life. “Physical activity is just one of the many elements that makes up a person,” he says. “It’s just as important that we are socially connected and that we are intellectually active.”

Here are six elements that can combine to help you become an active ager:

Active Ager Element #1: Stay Positive

Having a positive attitude isn’t just a nice sentiment: it can actually keep you young!

Seegert writes, “Active aging starts with having a positive attitude about getting older. Research by Yale psychologist Becca Levy and others has found that negative attitudes about aging can trim 7.5 years off your life. Other studies find connections between positive attitudes about aging and better health, including lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as improved quality of sleep.”

In other words, all those things your parents taught you about the power of positive thinking turn out to be true – at least when it comes to aging well.

Active Ager Element #2: Stay Connected

We’ve written plenty here on the blog about how crucial social interaction is for overall mental health, and active agers agree. Isolation is almost guaranteed to make your life shorter and less happy.

“Older people with active social interactions with family and friends — whether in person or virtually — may live longer and reduce their risk of depression, according to The American Geriatrics Society. Conversely, being isolated or lonely increases the odds of poorer health,” Seegert explains.

Active Ager Element #3: Stay Involved

Having a sense of purpose in the greater dynamic of your community can be a huge indicator of overall health. That means staying connected and involved with the world around you.

Seegert writes, “Participation in cultural, social, economic, and civic affairs can also help foster wellness and healthier aging regardless of physical or cognitive status, the WHO reports. Activities like volunteering in the community, participating in intergenerational programs (think: tutoring, reading to children, family gatherings), political involvement, or even helping out a neighbor foster a sense of satisfaction and purpose.”

Active Ager Element #4: Stay Healthy at All Ages and Stages

As much as we would all like to believe that our earlier choices won’t matter later in life, it turns out that our actions as younger people can have consequences, especially when it comes to substance use—alcohol, drugs, and smoking—and our relationship with food.

Dr. Susan Friedman, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, is quick to say that while your entire life’s worth of health is important, you can still live a healthy life, no matter what your earlier choices were. “[P]eople should know they can live active, healthy, happy, productive lives, even with chronic disease or disability,” she says. “And, it’s never too late to adopt healthier behaviors, which can help minimize the effects of disease and extend longevity.”

Active Ager Element #5: Stay Curious

The old saying might warn us that “curiosity killed the cat,” but a healthy curiosity can actually be a great indication of a longer, fuller life. Curiosity is a way of keeping the mind active and agile as we age, and these days there’s always something new to learn.

Seegert writes, “Intellectual engagement is as important as physical and social stimulation, experts say. Efforts that promote brain health, like taking a class, playing music, reading books about new subjects, or learning new skills, keeps the brain engaged and neurons firing.”

One suggestion: check out your local community college or senior center. You may find an amazing array of courses, seminars, and discussion groups in your community, offered to seniors free or at very low cost. Then next time you see your grandkids, you can tell them all about the pyramids, or sea otters, or Michelangelo!

Active Ager Element #6: Stay Calm

Aging comes with its own stresses, but learning to manage them can make a huge difference to your overall psychological and physical well-being.

“Managing stress and anxiety as an older person is different,” Seegert explains. “You may experience new types of stressors, like the loss of a loved one, a change in financial status or less structure in your day due to retirement, as well as physical changes, according to experts at Harvard Health. Exercise, deep breathing techniques, mindfulness or meditation, and increased social and mental health support are just some non-pharmacologic ways to help handle life’s ups and downs.”

Recent research has shown the benefits of even short amounts of exercise, or brief walks, to improve blood flow and bring down the stress level.

When it Comes to Longevity, Control What You Can

Health is a tapestry of different unique factors at play in a person’s life, including their genetics, income, level of education, and access to healthcare. But Friedman encourages every person to pursue active aging, no matter their circumstances. Every person can benefit from avoiding toxins and improving their lifestyle in physical, dietary, and social ways.

“The more that we can take this lifecycle approach, the better off we’ll be,” Friedman says. Her point is that, while some elements of aging are beyond our control, there are plenty of elements over which we definitely do have a say. Focus on those.

Government and Health Care Providers Must Foster Healthier Aging

Seegert writes, “While individuals must take the lead, health care systems, governments and policymakers must also create the means to foster healthy older age. A 2020 report from the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that we should be thinking about health and aging more as an economic and social investment rather than a strain on the economy or safety net.”

The report says, “Long-term prevention and health promotion cannot simply be left to healthcare providers or healthcare systems. It is quite literally everybody’s business.” Seegert adds, “At the individual level, people who are more engaged in their own health and aging reduce the burden on the healthcare system, and contribute more to the economy.”

Milner agrees. Active aging is for everyone, regardless of specific lifestyle, situation, or residence. “Even if you are in long term care, you can always squeeze the juice out of life. So that you can live better, longer, in that circumstance,” he says.

There are no hard and fast rules for active aging, except to engage your whole self as much as possible, says Friedman. “You don’t have to climb the mountain. You just have to take that first step.”

Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!

We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public.  As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.

You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.

Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.

Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.

Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!

(originally reported at www.fortune.com)

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