Question stereotypical ageist myths that dictate what the elderly can or can't do before you accept them. Don’t wallow in self pity. Indulge in group activities like a fitness class. Don’t be discouraged by old bad habits. Fix them one at a time without taking shortcuts. Be proactive. Foster a child-like curiosity to learn. Attune your lifestyle to compensate for changes you anticipate.
If you are like some of the older adults in the fitness classes I teach, you don’t necessarily want 30 years added to your lifespan. And these are active adults in their 60s to 80s. So imagine what inactive people might say to living to 100 and beyond. And yet, it is possible to greet such an offer with delight, not dread, especially if you embrace healthy aging and dispel some common misconceptions.
Redefine How You Age
The worry about adding years to life without adding life to those years is well founded. When we interviewed highly recognized active aging expert Colin Milner, he laid out some interesting stats and scenarios facing our baby boomer population.
According to Milner, the US and Canada have shoveled out trillions of dollars to increase longevity. And that effort has been quite successful: we North Americans have added an average of 30 additional years to our lives in just one century. That jump is bigger than the one my sister did when a tick landed on her during a dog walk the other day. The problem with the lifespan jump is that those added years are not proving to be healthy ones. Surprise! Or not really a surprise at all to those of us who work with or are older adults.
Basically, as we age, we baby boomers and our parents face challenges. Can you guess what they are?
Top 5 Challenges Facing Older Adults
1. Heeding Ageist Stereotypes And Myths
Examples: Once we cruise past our 50s and 60s, we are destined to slow down. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Or white knee socks look good with sandals. Yeah, I made up that last one.
2. Sinking Into Social Isolation
Colin depressed us with the fact that, by 2020, depression is projected to be the second leading cause of disability and death; it is predicted to be the number one cause by 2050. I may have paid more attention to that cute boy, Andrew, in my math class than to actual math, but even I can see that we are talking about my generation! Who? No, the Who. If you got that song reference, you are in the social isolation demographic.
3. Having A History Of Unhealthy Lifestyle
It’s not going to be nice for us if we have been cultivating unhealthy lifestyle habits all our life.
4. Sticking With Old Habits
And it certainly won’t help if we keep repeating behaviors that are ingrained but not so good for our health. This also means not learning anymore.
5. Always Seeking Quick Fixes
Learning to manage aging changes takes time, effort, and patience, whether those changes are physical, financial, or otherwise. Apparently, we are young enough to still want instant results. Or is that just me?
Top 5 Solutions To Age Healthfully
For each problem, Colin Milner offers a corresponding suggestion. While he confesses that his advice may seem simple, he stresses that putting it into practice takes effort and focus. Making a plan to age in a healthy, “new thinking” way is hard. Yet, aging inactively is harder.
- Stay alert to stereotypes so you can be aware of them, then question them, and then decide whether to ignore them.
- Vow to fight isolation, for yourself and others. Find people who are isolated and interact. You will save two birds with one phone! Colin urges us to find something we can start now. Go to a group fitness class today or call a neighbor today or sign up for an adult education class now.
- Look now for one habit you can change for the better. Rather than looking back at decades of unhealthy choices, look at today for one behavior to improve.
- Expand your knowledge and skills. Ask “why” a lot. Be curious.
- Anticipate and manage changes. Ask yourself “what works?” and implement more of that.
All in all, the key is to be proactive in order to age actively. Whew! That’s a lot of action. But not yet enough, as what we ultimately need to do is create a plan for today and the added tomorrows. We can redefine how we age, writing a new and better ending for ourselves and history.
As Colin asks, “What is your plan?” What expectations do you have — of yourself, your health, your future, and your present? In short, what will you do with your 30 added years?