In the first part of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was only 45 years. Today the average life expectancy has increased to 78.6 years. With the added 33 years to our life expectancy, we need to work toward a new image of aging, one that includes active, productive, vital years that are full of love, laughter, and intimacy. Some scientists tell us that 70 percent of the characteristics of aging are based on the choices we make every day—that is, our personal lifestyle choices. Our attitude and our sense of control over our lives are the keys in determining whether we just add years to our life or we add life to those years.
Get an attitude
Satchel Paige said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” This question is an important one for each of us to think about. Our birthday doesn’t always reflect how old we really are. What’s important is how young we feel.
America’s youth-focused culture has made it hard for many of us to feel good about the aging process. For example, we commonly want others to believe we are younger than our true age. However, there is good news for us in America. We have begun to develop a new attitude about aging. Our ideas about getting old are…old! Through new discoveries, we are learning that how we age is not only a function of our years, but also a function of our attitude.
Let’s take a closer look at aging in America. There has never been a better time in our nation’s history to be an adult. Over 70 percent of Americans will live to celebrate their 65th birthday. And in 20 years there will be more Americans over 60 than under 15. Thanks to scientific advances, we have added 33 years to our life expectancy.
Mickey Mantle once said, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” Scientists who study aging have made the remarkable discovery that most of the changes commonly associated with old people are really not dependent on the passage of time, but rather they result from disuse of our minds and bodies.
It can be said that we are largely responsible for our old age. It may surprise you that scientists say that only 30 percent of the characteristics of aging are based on genetics. Genetics plays the greatest role in health characteristics very early in life. The scientists tell us that about 70 percent of the characteristics of aging are based on the choices we make every day—our personal lifestyle choices.
What’s important is not how old we actually are, but how we are old. The trick is to shift our focus from staying young to aging with good health and vitality.
Bust the aging myths
Our beliefs about aging have a huge impact on how we act and how we take care of ourselves. In fact, a person’s perceived health turns out to be one of the best predictors of his or her future health. Surprisingly, studies have shown that subjective self-reported health is more accurate than an objective health measure from physicians.
How do we go about busting our own aging myths?
- Acknowledge your own aging myths
- Educate yourself
- Seek role models.
Let’s focus on the five most common myths about aging. It’s reassuring to know that all of these myths are in direct conflict with recent scientific data from researchers in the field of aging.
Myth #1: To be old is to be sick
This is a false statement. New research from Stanford University and other research centers shows that older Americans are generally healthy. Thus, living longer does NOT mean living with illness and disability. Much of your health is within your control.
Myth #2: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
The less people are challenged, the less they can learn and perform. However, it’s important to know that older people can, and do, learn new things. The fear of age-related mental loss is often exaggerated and simply wrong.
Myth #3: The horse is out of the barn
Many consider age-related changes irreversible. Fortunately, they are mistaken. In fact, studies have shown that we can recover lost function and decrease our risk of disease by adopting new healthy behaviors at any age.
Of course, if you feel you have an irreversible age-related problem, it’s important to check with your doctor. However, in almost every case, by adopting healthier habits you can improve your health and quality of life.
Myth #4: The secret of successful aging is to choose your parents wisely
It is true that there is some meaningful connection between genetics and aging. However, according to recent studies, the relative importance of genes has been tremendously overstated. Experts in the field of aging report that only about 30 percent of the characteristics of aging can be attributed to genes. As we grow older, our genes, which we have no control over, become less important than the parts of our lives that we can control—our environment and lifestyle.
Myth #5: Older people are miserable
The belief that older people are unhappy, lonely, and dejected is one of the biggest myths of all. Studies show that in terms of emotion, the best years come late in life. As people age, they are more emotionally balanced and better able to solve emotional problems. Older people as a group suffer less from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than younger people. They manage negative feelings better and enjoy positive feelings more.
Move it or lose it
Exercise for the young is important, but exercise for the older person is imperative. Being physically active is the cornerstone of healthy aging. The National Institute of Aging reports that if exercise could be put into a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed medicine in the country. Many characteristics that we used to attribute to aging—weight gain, brittle bones, forgetfulness, loss of muscle strength—are actually brought about by inactivity. There is no part of the body that doesn’t benefit from regular exercise.
Is a medical evaluation necessary before you start exercising? The American Heart Association guidelines indicate that the great majority of apparently healthy adults can participate in a moderate exercise program with minimal medical screening. However, persons with known heart disease, major physical limitations, or symptoms of cardiovascular problems such as shortness of breath or occasional chest pain should receive a medical checkup and more specific recommendations before starting an exercise program.
Exercise is a terrific way to keep going physically and mentally. Being physically active will make you feel energized and less stressed, ready to meet daily challenges we all face. If you already lead an active lifestyle, that’s great! Keep it up! Or maybe you know you need to be more active, but have trouble finding the time in an already jam-packed day.
At least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five days per week for a total of 150 minutes gives you important health benefits. A walking program is flexible and boasts high success rates because you can stick with it. It’s easy for walking to become a regular and satisfying part of life.
Recent studies show that we spend too much time sitting and all this sitting is causing decreased health. Many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting. We sit eating our meals. We sit driving around. We sit watching TV. We sit at our computer. We sit while we are reading or talking on the telephone. Try to interrupt long periods of sitting with frequent breaks. Just stand up and move every 30 minutes.
Strength training at my age? Yes! We all need strength training, but older people need even more than young people do. Starting at about age 35, both men and women begin to lose about 10 percent of their lean muscle mass per decade. This loss is accelerated to 15 percent after age 45 and hits about 30 percent by the time we are 80. This wasting of muscle can go undetected for years because as we get older, our bodies pad the affected areas with fat. Since fat weighs less than muscle, we can even maintain our weight that shows on the scale while we are losing muscle. Much of the decline associated with aging is caused by this loss of muscle mass and gain of fat. When muscle mass begins to go, many other factors such as strength, bone density, balance, and quality of life also decline. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that strength training can prevent this loss of muscle mass.
~You can have a better life~