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Are you Aging Successfully?

In 2016, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) declared there were more Canadian seniors than children under the age of 15. Of course, this is related to two macro-demographic trends: the Baby Boom and Canada’s declining average fertility rate of 1.61 children per women. As a nation, we are definitely getting older, but are you aging successfully?

It turns out defining successful aging is not as simple as it sounds. There are many factors to consider including physical and cognitive function, social interactions, financial security, and the list goes on. While chronological aging is an irreversible process and our lifespan is directly related to our overall health, one’s quality of life is a complicated mix of factors.

In focus group studies that asked older adults aged 60-99 about factors related to “successful aging”, 33 separate factors were identified:

“Four major themes emerged: attitude/adaptation, security/stability, health/wellness, and engagement/stimulation. Every focus group emphasized the need for a positive attitude, realistic perspective, and the ability to adapt to change. Security and stability encapsulated one's living environment, social support, and financial resources. General physical health and wellness were frequently mentioned, with mixed opinions on their necessity for successful aging. Finally, a sense of engagement, reflected in pursuit of continued stimulation, learning, feeling a sense of purpose in life, and being useful to others and to society, was considered a prominent aspect of successful aging. All four themes appeared to be interrelated such that engagement required a foundation of security and stability while positive attitude and adaptation strategies often compensated for impaired physical health.”[1].

It seems “aging successfully” has more to do with attitude than our physical fitness in old age. Our Mother’s told us about attitude and the impact it would have on our lives, and she was right! A recent article published in the Mayo Clinic’s newsletter identifies several beneficial health outcomes from positive thinking including: longer life spans, reduced risk of cancer, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The article did not provide a clear explanation as to why positive thinking affects health, but the theory is that it provides better coping abilities, which reduces the impact of stress on the body. Apparently “self-talk” is the method many employ to achieve positive thinking. There is a list of practical steps and suggestions outlined in the piece written by the Mayo Clinic’s staff: “Positive thinking: stop negative self-talk to reduce stress” [2]. Read the entire article here

 

[1] Building Blocks of Successful Aging: A Focus Group Study of Older Adults Perceived Contributions to Successful Aging. American Journal of Psychiatry, Mar 2007 p.194-201

[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950#:~:text=Lower%20levels%20of%20distress%20and,from%20cardiovascular%20disease%20and%20stroke

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