Think old age is only for the frail, infirm, miserable and sidelined? You couldn’t be more wrong!
It’s a commonly held perception that our so called “golden years” are often anything but. For too many of us, the concept of old age brings up thoughts about poor health, sickness, slowing down, falls, loneliness and isolation. However, getting older can actually be a very positive experience, with many benefits to counter the decline of our bodies.
It helps to reframe your perspective and think of ageing as your greatest adventure. How, you ask? Let’s dive in.
Why ageing can be amazing
The positives of ageing are many and varied. They include:
- You have more free time to do whatever you want
- You need less sleep
- You often have a happier and more relaxed outlook on life that comes with maturity
- Your brain becomes smarter in a number of ways
- You have better social skills and empathy
- You can enjoy being a grandparent
- You will usually experience fewer medical problems, such as headaches, colds and allergies
- You can take advantage of senior discounts
- You stop caring what others think of you
- You have fewer major life decisions to make
Getting older definitely has its perks, and it’s not always the negative experience it’s sometimes made out to be.
When it isn’t amazing
Having said that, there’s no denying that there are some definite downsides to ageing. Declining mental and physical health is one of the biggest downsides, plus there’s the fact that you may experience loneliness, isolation and lack of purpose and meaning in life.
However, ageing doesn’t have to be this way! There’s plenty you can do to help counter declining health, loneliness and lack of purpose – and thrive in old age, not just tolerate it.
How to give yourself the best chance of thriving in old age
To give yourself the very best chance of living a happy, healthy and thriving old age, you need a plan – and you ideally need to start before you get old. Develop the healthy habits outlined below now, as they can take time to become ingrained and for you to start reaping the rewards. If your youth and middle age is characterised by poor health and wellbeing habits, you are likely to condemn your old age to disease and disability, no matter what efforts you make to counter them later.
Eating well, exercising and challenging your brain are all habits that can – and should – be started while you’re young. That way, they’ll stand you in good stead and set you up to live your best life as you age.
Follow these steps to give yourself the best possible chance of ageing well.
Adopt a positive mindset
We’ve all met those older people who see the cloudy wrapping around every silver lining and could find a downside to winning the lotto! Having a negative mindset is very damaging – studies have shown that people with positive attitudes are actually healthier, and live longer and better. Be aware of your own negativity and start to challenge your attitudes – are they really true or are you just looking on the dark side? Every time you tell yourself you’re too old to do something, you’re creating a limiting belief – and one that’s probably far from true. Your attitude is up to you, so be positive – it really works.
Don’t neglect exercise
To live your healthiest life in old age, movement has to become a way of life, not an optional extra. Movement really is medicine, and the benefits of exercise are so many and varied that it’s no longer optional as you age. Exercise can help prevent or manage everything from chronic diseases (such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, obesity, breast and colon cancer) to many types of pain and even dementia. As well, it can play a huge role in managing mental health issues, and alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It improves muscle tone, functional strength and balance – plus, it has a well-known feel-good factor that can’t be underestimated.
Click here to discover how to safely start or return to exercise as you get older.
Nourish your body
It goes without saying that poor nutrition will eventually lead to poor health sooner or later. As you get older you can’t afford to eat a poor diet. You need to nourish your body with healthy and life-giving foods from all the food groups to give you the best chance of thriving. Inadequate nutrition intake will very likely contribute to poor wellbeing and increase your chances of developing a chronic health condition.
Get out and about
Sitting at home in front of the TV is not a recipe for a happy or healthy life. While it may feel easier than making the effort to get out and about, it’s far better for you to maintain links with the outside world. Book some appointments in your calendar – or even book a time to skype with family and friends if getting out is physically difficult. There’s always something you can do – and you’ll probably feel a whole lot better for doing so.
Have a purpose
Once the initial thrill of retirement wears off, people often feel a little lost and without a sense of real purpose. We all still want to feel useful, no matter how old we are – and the bonus of ageing means we can do so without the commitment that a job requires. Find a definite purpose in life, rather than just drifting through the days. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available, and you’d be playing an important role in addressing the needs of society. Or is there something you’ve always wanted to do when you were younger but never had time to make it happen? Now is the time – so set some goals in place, make a plan and get going!
Maintain strong social connections
The sense of having a support system and connection around you is very powerful for seniors. Many older people struggle with the absence of close ties if they don’t live close to family, and find their friends moving away or passing on. Of course, the irony is that as you get older you have more time to spend with people. Make the effort to stay in touch with family and friends, and make regular times to meet up and connect in person where possible. As well, seek to develop new relationships with people you come in contact with, particularly if they share your interests.
Challenge your brain
Your brain is meant to work, but too often retired people allow their brain to wither both mentally and physically through lack of use. Just because you are no longer working doesn’t mean your brain should go on holiday – it needs to be stimulated to keep your mind alert and engaged. Challenge your brain in many different ways – word or number puzzles, games, reading, discussion groups, or learning a language.
Seek the spiritual
Many people report great benefits from being able to connect with a higher power that can take you outside yourself and help restore feelings of wellbeing. Consider visiting your local church or religious group to see how a spiritual connection might help you.
Those who thrive in old age tend to have a zest for life and a curiosity for learning new things. In order to flourish, be open to trying new things, and be interested and actively involved in the details of your life. Meet new people, read new books, find a new interest, take a new class, go to a different place, or travel to a familiar place via a different route. Just don’t be stagnant.
Old age doesn’t have to be beset with fears, low expectations and declining physical and mental health. Life in your last decades can be a time to savour living and enjoy the beauty of life. And the key to thriving in old age starts when you’re younger – not when you reach the land of old age. There’s plenty of people out there forging active and healthy lives well into old age – and there’s no reason you can’t, either.
Click here to read more about new year’s resolutions for healthy ageing.