As an increasing number of Canadians enter their middle and golden years, there’s less talk of finding the fountain of youth and more discussion around positive aging. This shift in thinking is a welcome change from trying to turn back the clock, moving toward the more attainable goal of maintaining a high quality of life into retirement.
It’s not just boomers and Gen Xers who are hoping to redefine what it means to age. Governments and municipalities understand that a healthy community of older adults puts less strain on public resources, which means they have a vested interest in keeping their aging citizens active and healthy. And given that First World millennials and the generations that follow are expected to live to 100, it’s more important than ever to pursue a lifestyle devoted to healthy aging.
Philip Pizzo from the departments of pediatrics and microbiology/immunology at Stanford University penned an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled A Prescription for Longevity in the 21st Century. His goal isn’t just to add years to one’s life, but to make the later decades of life “more meaningful and functional and less attenuated to the morbidities that lead to medical, social and financial dependency.” In other words, he’s touting the benefits of maintaining a healthy body, social life and bank account as the decades add up.
It seems obvious that Pizzo’s prescription for longevity is directed at those in their middle years and beyond, but investing in longevity early will increase the odds of reaping the rewards from living a vibrant and purposeful life. So don’t wait until retirement looms to pursue the following life goals — it’s never too early to embrace positive aging.
Individuals with a university education have a greater life expectancy than those without. Low levels of education often result in lower income; according to American data, this results in a greater tendency toward declining physical and mental health, as well as an increase in unemployment. Statistics suggest a 15-year difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest Americans.
Urging the youngest generations to stay in school has been a common refrain, but catching up on missed education and the opportunities it offers never gets old. Lifelong learning isn’t just a stepping stone to good fiscal health — it’s an important investment in living longer.
Live life with purpose
Having a purpose beyond oneself — like caring for others, improving the world around you, sharing your expertise, getting involved in community groups and following a spiritual path — translates into a longer life, according to studies of the young and old. Starting each day with a sense of purpose and a commitment to contributing to society is like a daily dose of medicine.
With age comes more time to give of yourself, so the idea of creating opportunities for senior members of the community to share their experience and knowledge benefits society as a whole. While retirement is often viewed as the end of your value, it’s actually an opportunity to give more to society than you get back.
Keep your friends close
Social connection is associated with a 50 per cent boost in survival. Loneliness, on the other hand, can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. To put it more simply, having friends is good for your health.
Prioritizing relationships and staying engaged with family, friends, neighbours and co-workers is key to maintaining a high level of connectedness. Yet there are plenty of times when isolation is common, including changing schools, jobs or cities; separation from a spouse, partner or other family members; and retirement. Maintaining varied social networks allows for support during periods of change and reduces the risk of isolation.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
It’s well known that exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating nutritious food improves health, well-being and longevity. What’s less understood is that adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the only proven ways to reduce genetic risk factors like heart disease, obesity and mental illness.
Building healthy habits early also means enjoying the resulting energy, strength and positive mood on either side of middle age. But the real payback comes during those years when age begins to whittle away at the physical and mental competencies we take for granted in youth. Putting a priority on exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep slows down the physical decline, and is good for both mind and body.