NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Active Aging

Active Aging


          Active aging? Isn't aging something that "just happens?"  Something that we can't control?   For today’s elderly the answer is "NO."  There are many ways in which people can take an active role in making their later years healthier and happier.

          Studies have shown that older adults with positive attitudes, good nutrition, regular exercise, and social activities are more effective at avoiding or dealing with problems and crises in later life than people without those habits. And studies have also shown that it is almost never too late to make positive changes in lifestyle to help maintain health and functioning.

          Active aging begins with having a positive attitude toward aging and toward life in general. Some people would say that it is hard to look forward to aging when so many things can go wrong. Television programs, magazines, and birthday cards show older people as forgetful, frail, and out of step with the times. Active aging includes being aware of the importance of thinking and planning in our daily lives. 

          Despite popular myths about health problems in later life, most people age 65 and over are in good physical and mental health and can take care of themselves.  One recent national study by Duke University researchers found that nearly four out of five people aged 65 and over require no assistance with any of the basic activities of daily living. Many of the diseases and disabling conditions that were once viewed as normal or inevitable in later life are actually preventable, reversible, or can be delayed for several years. In addition, many treatments are now available to lessen the impact of chronic and conditions on quality of life.

          To increase the chances of living longer in a healthy condition, many health professionals agree on a number of points - eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get regular checkups, don't smoke, drink alcohol only in moderation, practice good safety habits, and avoid overexposure to the sun and cold.  Nutritionists advise that older adults continue or adopt a balanced, low-fat diet full of high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, and cereals. A low-fat, high-fiber diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease and some forms of cancer.

          Physical activity lowers the risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, falls, some cancers, and adult-onset diabetes, assists in weight control and lessens the disabling and painful impact of arthritis and other chronic diseases. One set of studies by researchers at Tufts University found that even nursing home residents in their 90s increased strength and flexibility with supervised exercise. Many older adults have been physically active throughout their lives in their work, family roles, and in other pastimes such as gardening, dancing, and sports, even though they have never pursued a formal plan of exercise.

           Some people report that one of their greatest fears about aging is the loss of mental abilities, and, in particular, the development of dementia or Alzheimer's. In reality, only about 10 to 15 percent of people age 65 and over have an illness that affects the ability to think. Although researchers have found that many people do become a bit more forgetful (about recent events) at older ages, this process is usually so slow and gradual that it has very little effect on functioning in everyday life. Active older people report that they plan for or compensate for what is called "benign forgetfulness" by using memory aids, such as making written lists and reminder notes, or putting prescription medicines in a sorting container designed to help people keep track of multiple medications and schedules

          Nowadays, older adults, especially retirees, often say that the key to successful aging is to keep busy by pursuing hobbies, doing volunteer work, taking classes, attending religious services, and visiting friends, among other activities. Many say that having too much time on their hands makes them bored and boring, preoccupied with their health or other problems. Gerontologists advise, however, that the drive to keep busy leads some people to cram their schedules full of trivial, unsatisfying activities. They cite studies that have shown that the most satisfied retirees are those who keep up the same pace and participate in the same kind of activities they did before retirement. So, while the busy life may be good for people who have always led a busy life, it may not be the best for people who have always preferred a less cluttered, slower-paced lifestyle.

          One of the most important things in life at any age is positive relationships with family members, neighbors, friends, and even casual acquaintances. Studies have shown the importance of social relationships in giving meaning and order to our lives.  Having other people in our lives is so important that it not only affects the quality of our lives but may even affect our health and the length of our lives as well.


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