“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” – Emily Dickinson
Most of us like to think we’re pretty savvy, having learned a thing or two from our life experiences. Yet, one area where many may be shortchanging themselves is holding onto the mistaken belief that you deteriorate in every way the older you get. While it is true that older individuals are more likely to have one or more medical conditions requiring regular attention, if not medication, getting older does not automatically make you infirm, senile, miserable or unable to get along with others. You can, indeed, benefit from aging gracefully.
It All Centers on Attitude
When it comes to being adept at aging gracefully, it all comes down to attitude. In fact, attitude is everything here. If you are pessimistic about the life ahead of you, this will influence everything you do, think and say from here on out. On the other hand, when you adopt a positive and optimistic view of aging, you’re much more likely to be able to withstand some of the inevitable changes that aging brings.
For many people, this is familiar to the “glass half-full versus glass half-empty.” The former is a positive point of view, whereas the latter is negative. The glass half-full outlook toward aging celebrates all your strong points, your accumulated wisdom, the way you’re able to be flexible and switch to alternative or new activities, how you treasure loved ones more, find it easier to not sweat the small disappointments, to compromise and find a middle ground where there’s discord or need to choose between options.
The best part about a positive attitude toward aging gracefully is that it becomes easier over time. As a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found, older persons with positive self-perceptions of aging lived about 7.5 years longer than those who viewed aging as less positive. The measurements on self-perceptions toward aging were initially taken some 23 years earlier.
Continue to Set Goals
Having a goal and working to complete it is something everyone can relate to. When you’re older, beyond the age where you’re continually striving to get the next promotion or career advancement, or you’ve reached your financial and family goals and think you don’t need to make any more goals, that’s when you may benefit from a re-examination of your priorities and making some adjustments.
Goals are always important, perhaps even more so when you’re getting on in years. You may have more idle time available and, rather than dwell on what’s not working or how aches and pains seem to bother you more, making progress toward one or more goals can help motivate you, lift your mood, and show how incremental gains improve your mental health and life overall. In addition, when you continue to make goals, you always have something to look forward to. That’s important when you have fewer people in your immediate circle, or family members are not present to interact and socialize with.
Use Self-Guides for Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life
What we once wanted out of life, achieving our “ideal-self” may have somewhat changed, after reaching certain milestones or accomplishments, yet having hopes and aspirations is valuable in helping us navigate meaning and purpose in life even after we’ve reached the pinnacle of what others may term success.
However, if we begin to focus on where we fall short in achieving hopes and dreams, researchers from Edith Cowan University say, it begins to become counter-productive, resulting in frustration and depression and other aspects of psychological distress. Excessive rumination, repetitively thinking about lack of progress toward the ideal-self is a significant vulnerability. The researchers found that “perceiving one’s hopes and wishes as unfulfilled and the loss of desired positive outcomes increases emotional vulnerability and psychological distress.”
What may be helpful, especially if you’re stuck in negative self-evaluation over perceived failure to meet “overly” high standards, say researchers, is to reflect on and occasionally modify self-guides. In short, be kind to yourself and learn to keep self-guides in perspective.
Take Up Dancing
Several studies show that dancing may be superior to repetitive exercises in maintaining healthy brains in older individuals. A 2018 study published in PLosOne found that dancing, compared to conventional fitness activity, led to larger volume increases in more brain areas. The results of the study led researchers to recommend their “challenging dance program as an effective measure to counteract detrimental effects of aging on the brain.”
A study published in 2019 in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine looked in the literature specifically at the use of dance as an intervention promoting functional/metabolic health in older adults and found that “any dance style can induce positive functional adaptations in older adults, especially related to balance.” Most dance interventions reviewed were 12 weeks in duration, lasting 60 minutes per session. Most-used dance styles were cultural and ballroom dancing. Researchers concluded that dancing may be a potential exercise intervention promoting health-related benefits for aging individuals.
Accept Changes that Aging Brings — and Make Adjustments
There’s no sense fighting the fact that you’re aging. Everyone ages, and it’s a normal part of life. What you can do to age gracefully, however, is to accept the changes that aging brings. This doesn’t mean you roll over and stop living, but that you make accommodations and adjustments where necessary so that you can continue to pursue meaningful activities that help you find and enjoy purpose in life.
For example, anticipate what may happen and construct a plan to deal with it. If you’re no longer able to drive due to limited range of motion, vision or other conditions, arrange for alternative modes of transportation so you can continue to get around and do what you want and need to do. This may include taking a community van, hiring Uber or Lyft or other rideshare venues, relying on friends, neighbors or family members, taking the bus or a taxi, subway or train. You may even be able to walk to some locations or ride a bike. The point is, analyze the situation and determine other ways to overcome the change that has resulted from aging. It’s not giving up. It’s approaching the problem in a smart manner. You’ll also feel greater satisfaction knowing you’ve handled the issue in such a logical and practical manner.
Maintain Social Ties
Reconnecting with and/or spending more time with loved ones and family members is highly conducive to graceful aging. As the American Psychological Association reported, staying close to family and friends is an excellent way to reduce stress, as such social support can help ward off stress and diseases related to stress.
If family members and loved ones are not geographically close, making use of technology such as Skye and phone video calls, in addition to private messing on popular social media, can bridge the distance gap and enhance connection. Just hearing from those you love and who care about you can make an incredible difference when you’re older, perhaps ill or house-bound, dealing with late-life stressors that may include coping with late-life transitions, depression, grief, poverty, functional limitations, cognitive changes, chronic pain, and multiple medical conditions.