It is a known fact that our country’s population is increasingly aging, and is therefore no surprise that more and more people around us will likely be over the age of 65 years. Are you wondering what factors may lead someone to age well, in other words, successful aging, positive aging, or healthy aging? Many scientists are actively conducting research in this field, and this will likely continue to be a “hot topic” in the future years to come.
The phrase “successful aging” was first popularized by researcher Robert Havinghurst in 1961 when he wrote about “adding life to your years”. It is now understood that there are essentially four important components to successful aging:
- Avoiding disease and staying healthy
- Maintaining an active engagement with life
- Maintaining high cognitive and physical functioning
- Keeping a positive outlook on life
Naturally, what successful aging means to a 65-year old will look different to an 85-year old. Moreover, one’s environment, gender, race, ethnicity, and other social identity groups may influence the way in which one achieves successful aging.
Social support and productivity, which are both necessary parts of life engagement, fall nicely in line with life pursuits of love, work and play. Social support in particular, is most effective when it’s mutual and balanced and is instrumental for successful aging. Studies have shown that the more social ties one has, the less decline in functioning over time. However, this tends to vary with gender: in most cases, men report to receive emotional support primarily from their spouses, while women often rely heavily on their friends, relatives, and children for emotional support.
Along the lines of productivity, research suggests that the more productive a person is, the more higher-functioning they are. Interestingly, physical activity (an aspect of productive activity), helps to maintain health functioning and therefore prevent declines in overall well-being.
A large Harvard study called “The Adult Development Study” tracked a young cohort of over 250 participants for 80 years. These participants were considered socially advantaged and overall healthy. The results show that more than 80% outlived their 80th birthday and on average seemed to maintain the following lifestyle: not smoking (or stopping smoking while young), coping adaptively, not abusing alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, some exercise, a stable marriage, and being educated. These variables were attributed to the participants’ longevity.
Another very interesting study in 2001 proposed the theory that longevity may be rooted in experiencing positive emotions in early life. A recollection of many positive memories from one’s early life may be related to a reduced risk of mortality. Other studies have found that resilience may also play an important role in successful aging.
All in all, the immense amount of research in this area suggests that people have more control over the quality of their lives during the aging process than once believed.
I encourage you, readers, to take a few moments and reflect on what aging successfully means to you, and how you can tailor your current lifestyle to create a rewarding future.