Most everyone wants to live a healthy long life. Yet while we all recognize the value the physical aspects such as diet and exercise play, are we placing equal focus on the psychological components? Growing evidence indicates that these emotional factors play an equally, if not more important role in how we live our lives. How we think affects the choices we make, and the choices we make affects how we live our lives. So as more people live longer, healthier lives we are gaining clearer insight as to what it takes to be healthy throughout our entire life – along all the stages on our journey.
First and foremost, how we think about growing older plays a major role in how we age. Fortunately, the predominant focus on youth and the young has been shifting with the aging of America. Unfortunately however, by previously putting so much value on youth and the young, we sort of set everyone up for a fear of decline and uselessness as they grow older. But now we recognize aging is a process and it is through this entire process that we really learn what it takes to live healthy, long lives.
The majority of healthy older adults share a common set of psychological characteristics: Enjoy life, maintain a sense of optimism and humor; Great adaptability; Freedom from anxiety and not prone to worry; Live with satisfaction from day to day; Respond to life’s simple pleasures, see life as a great adventure; Keen interest in current events; Religious in the broad sense, but no extreme orthodoxy; and maintain a sense of self-sufficiency.
While they also share the typical physical characteristics such as getting proper rest and exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, drinking moderately, taking minimal medications and not smoking, it is this emotional/psychological component that is most intriguing and perhaps the most compelling.
Certainly we all recognize that for the most part, wisdom only comes with age. So as people journey through life, they gain insight as to what’s important and what’s not. Our perspectives change or become clearer through our lifetime experiences (which only come with age) and this is what provides our inner wisdom.
With aging specifically – whether you’re 47, 77 or 97 – you are somewhere on the road we all take. And while we may have no choice about doing it – the choice we do have, however, is the style in which we will take this journey.
Will we kick and scream the whole way or enjoy the scenery along the detours? Will we roll with the punches or butt our heads with reality? These are the choices we can make that will influence the quality of our lives and our health no matter how old we are chronologically.
Interestingly enough, the healthiest older adults do not exactly mesh with the typical American lifestyle of the 21st century. The constant restlessness, desire for more, and feeling that nothing is ever enough are replaced with an inner wisdom to appreciate the simple things in life – pleasures and experiences rather than material things and status.
In fact, if there were only one word to choose to best describe how to live a healthy, long life, “adaptable” was the one most often applied by researchers. The healthiest people, regardless of their age and in spite of their losses, are able to move on and find new ways to love their life at ALL stages along their journey.
Love your life – it’s the only one you’ve got!