Sure, we all want to age successfully…
But our culture fosters some ageism and myths about aging, where we’re oftentimes afraid of growing old and can be in denial about it.
Aging is certainly not glamorized in the media nor the marketing and advertising space, and instead, this is a common anti-aging perspective:
With all the tips, tricks and jargon out there, I’ve boiled it down to a simple 4-part framework for successful aging from a holistic perspective.
If you focus on the following four core categories and try to balance them across your life and you might just be golden:
- Giving back
We’ll deep dive into each, but let’s first define successful aging since it can mean so many things to different people.
What is Successful Aging?
Wikipedia defines it as:
physical, mental and social well-being in older age
Authors of Successful Aging: The MacArthur Foundation Study, John Rowe, MD and Robert Kahn, PhD define it as needing these three components:
- Good health, low risk of disease and disability
- High mental and physical functioning
- Active engagement with life, an active life
And here’s their visual model for successful aging:
Sure that’s a great model, but let’s talk about the tactical things you can do to get there.
I’ve put together a 4-part framework for you to reference for successful aging… four core categories for you to focus on. Here they are:
Successful Aging Tip #1: Be socially involved in your community
There are so many studies out there that tell us being social is good for your health. And not just your physical health.
Being socially engaged can increase your physical, mental and emotional health.
Whether it’s your relationships with your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues or even strangers, being involved in some sort of community environment is so important.
Check out these studies:
- Social interaction improves your cognitive health – a study by Bryan James at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, analyzed over 1100 seniors with dementia. The seniors were followed for 12 years and Bryan and his team found the people with frequent social interaction had 70% less cognitive decline than the dementia patients with low social interaction.
- Social interaction improves your physical health – a study by Fadia Shaya and her research team found that social networks help control hypertension and the Novant Health Library reports that the benefits of being social and involved in communities among older adults are also a reduced risk of some cancers, osteoporosis, and forms of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Social interaction improves mental health – the Economic and Social Research Council, reports that social isolation is a key trigger for mental illness. They found that adults who have no friends are psychologically the worst off, and that it’s an internationally shared concept that friendships are important.
- Social interaction increases your longevity – Australian researchers conducted a study at Flinders University and they followed 1,500 people for a span of 10 years. They discovered that people with a large network of friends outlived their counterparts by 22%.
Even if it’s simple interactions, community plays a large role in boosting your overall well-being.
Successful Aging Tip #2: Focus on growth
Just like your hair and nails are designed to grow, you’re designed to grow through new life experiences and lifelong learning.
And just like any other muscle in your body, your brain need to be exercised and well-maintained. Otherwise, the use it or lose it principle can take over and you’ll risk increasing your cognitive decline.
Researchers in a University of Texas study evaluated over 220 older adults and found that people who worked on the “high challenge” activities had more enhanced memory function and better focus that the people who worked on the “low challenge” activities. The “high challenge” activities happen to be quilting and digital photography in this case.
Author of The Code of the Extraordinary Mind and founder of Mindvalley Academy, Vishen Lakhiani, is one of the most influential public figures in personal growth. He believes the three most important factors that contribute to your life’s fulfillment are:
From my article on 19 Tips for an Amazing Life After Retirement, here are four tips that can help you focus on growth:
- Add something new to your life – you can create new neural pathways until the day you die according to the Hebbian theory, so taking up new experiences and establishing new ways of doing standard things can work in your favor. Plus, it’s a great chance to spice up your life and to test out new things – if you can find new experiences that energize you, those are gold.
- Go back to school – not in the traditional sense, but for the sake of lifelong learning. Feed your curiosity and quench your thirst for a new skill set. What have you always been curious about but were too afraid to take the time and learn?
- Immerse yourself in culture – whether it’s food, people or travel, get out of your comfort zone and be open minded about different ways of living. So many options and cultures to explore on this planet…
- Spend time on hobbies and pastimes – the more engaging and “high challenge” the activities, the more you’ll increase your neuroplasticity. As a musician, my favorite recommendation is to play a musical instrument or get involved in dancing. Why? Because it engages a full-body brain workout and exercises multiple parts of your brain simultaneously. And that means long-term positive effects of music on your memory and cognitive health.
And if you’re still in the building wealth part of your life (or if you’re working because you want to vs because you have to), working can contribute to your growth… so long as it’s challenging in the right ways and doesn’t cause you too much stress.
In fact, according to an Age Wave and Merrill Lynch study:
About half (47%) of current retirees either are working, have worked or plan to work in retirement, and 58% of working retirees say retirement was an opportunity to transition to a different type of work.
So working can be good for the growth part of your retirement life.
Pro Tip: Make sure your work is fulfilling and aligns with your core values. There’s so much power in finding clarity and living intentionally, even if it involves work.
Successful Aging Tip #3: Embrace the power of giving back
Volunteerism and giving back are good for your health on so many levels – mental, emotional and physical.
There are several studies that claim it:
- UnitedHealth Group conducted a survey and found that 76% of the people who volunteered at some point throughout the year felt physically healthier, 94% reported volunteering improves their mood, and 78% felt less stressed.
- NPR reported one study that asked participants to spend $5 on themselves or $5 on someone else. Those who spent money on other people vs themselves were measurably happier.
- A study from the University of Michigan found that when you give to another person, there’s a physiological response – your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up with endorphins, as if you were the receiver of the good need.
- A Psychology Today article says that when you help others, oxytocin hormone is released, lowering your stress, boosting your mood and making you feel more connected to others.
And if you’re a pre-retiree or retiree with open-ended days ahead of you, you’ll want to fill your sacred time with meaningful intentional activities.
Not sure what meaningful intentional activities are for you?
Do some serious self-reflecting and get to your core values. Then you can spend time with people and activities that align with those core values. This is key to creating an energized life for yourself.
You can start with some finding clarity questions and dive deeper from there:
There are some essential exercises in the 12 Weeks to a Rewired “Retirement” program that walk you through important steps to finding clarity and calling out your core values.
If you’re not looking to go that deep into transforming your life, you can follow these 7 Steps to Finding the Right Volunteer Opportunity or check out these 16 ways to give back to the community.
Either way, once you have clarity, you can shortcut your search for the perfect volunteer opportunity with this guide featuring 20 top volunteer websites.
Successful Aging Tip #4: Prioritize your health
This one’s the most common tip and we of course understand the popular mantra of diet and exercise.
The problem is this can mean so many things to different people. With all the distracting advice, info and direction out there, it can be super overwhelming. And it can also be difficult to stay on track.
Your nutritional needs change as you age. But your diet and exercise plan has to be customized and personalized for you and only you, for it to really work.
The Solution: Create a very simple plan and take micro-steps consistently everyday until that habit that you’re trying to create (or drop) becomes second nature to you. Then you tackle another micro-step and repeat. Also pay attention to how you feel once you’ve added that new habit into your daily routine – if it energizes you, then keep it up.
An Example: Cut out sugar.
Rather than beat yourself up because you’re not following some daunting regimen of: no carbs, no sugar, no sodium, no fats, no alcohol, more veggies, more fruits, more water, less red meat, more exercise, more cardio, more weights, more stretching, more walking, less sitting, etc., just try to focus on one thing at a time.
Then once you master your new good habit, celebrate your win.
And then repeat.
Another Example: Walk for 15 minutes per day.
You can start off by getting your body and mind used to a habit of simply walking and moving every single day. If you do it at the same time each day, you’ll form your new good habit that much more quickly and easily.
Then you can start to add other ideas (yoga, stretching, meditation, swimming, or even up it to 30 mins of walking, etc.) one at a time and only after you’ve mastered your new good habit.
This can be such a powerful exercise in creating a health plan that works for you in the long-run. And you don’t have to shock your body to do so, which means you’re more likely to keep it up and not regress.
And because I created Second Wind Movement to help you take preventative measures and be proactive in aging successfully, here are two helpful diets for Alzheimer’s prevention:
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet has also been associated with reduced risk of depression, lower blood pressure and helps with cardiovascular health:
- More fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, vegetable oils
- Less sodium, sugar, red meat
The Mediterranean Diet, based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean cooking, also encourages cardiovascular health:
- More fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, shellfish, beans, nuts, olive oil, health fats
- Less red meat, processed foods
So there you have it – a simple 4-part framework for you to follow for successful aging.
Broken Record Tip: It’s never too early to start planning for your aging self. Practice building habits now that your future self will appreciate.
Which of these four core categories will you tackle first?
For more ideas on how to age successfully, check out free eBook 19 Tips for an Amazing Retirement Life.