When it comes to aging well, it seems that everyone has advice, regardless of whether they live by it. The media bombards consumers with statements that fat, carbs, sugar, fast foods and processed goods are bad. Yet mass advertising and production urge us to indulge in those very same substances. Many medical professionals offer their own stern mantra: Don't drink, don't smoke, reduce stress, exercise, and, the ever ambiguous phrase, 'eat right.'
Longevity and aging well aren't necessarily the same. Some people reach a high age but start showing it early on and might even suffer from many health problems. Others never seem to age much but die suddenly.
So, what is the path to aging well? Harvard University conducted a study beginning in the 1930s that involved observation of more than 800 people from adolescence on. The study revealed that, in addition to avoiding nicotine and engaging in exercise, key components to aging well include enhancing coping skills, connecting socially and staying mentally active.
Health professionals often recommend that patients lower, or even eliminate, stress, especially when patients suffer from chronic health problems. However, eliminating stress is unrealistic, and what matters most is how an individual handles it. One good approach is to evaluate each problematic situation. If circumstances are beyond control, focus on the reaction to the situation.
According to Dr. George Vaillant, a director of the Harvard Study on Adult Development, even people who had stressful events aged well when they dealt with them by maintaining a positive attitude.
A good social network is vital to aging well. This was confirmed by other studies, including one conducted by Theresa Seeman of the UCLA School of Medicine. Even if you are not married, make social connections with other family members or friends. Having healthy social relationships slows down age-related mental deterioration when compared to people with few social contacts.
A feeling of being loved and cared for enhances mental well-being. Also, loved ones can create physical health benefits, especially at an advanced age. This happens when others make sure you get out and exercise, encourage you to eat healthy and remind you of taking any needed medication.
Making new friends may sound self-explanatory, but many older people feel their age even more as people around them pass on. Making friends in younger age groups can counteract this feeling.
Learning new things, making new friends when old ones die or move on, and keeping a playful attitude all help keep you young. Learning does not need to be boring; not everyone is cut out to be a math whiz or scientist. Nor do you need to stop learning because of disabilities. Choose something that is fun or creative, even if others may think it's 'useless.' Also, forget the unwritten rules society has about acting a certain age. As long as it's not destructive behavior, youthful playfulness can enhance your well-being.
It's never too late to change
What if you have observed only a few, or none, of these variants? Vaillant insists that it's never too late to make changes that will lead toward a path of aging well.