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When we were growing up, whether we’re baby boomers or Gen Xers, aging came with its own set of stereotypes. We thought we were doomed to a life of rocking chairs, early bird dinners, and lights out at 7 because that’s what every commercial, magazine, and TV showed us.
Thankfully, society’s attitude toward aging has taken a positive shift. Studies highlighted in a recent New York Times article found that older adults with an optimistic outlook on aging live longer, healthier lives than seniors who view it through a negative lens. They also have a lower risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, better cognitive functioning, and fewer feelings of depression.
How can we be sure we’re living out our golden years with the best attitude possible? Here are four simple ideas:
1. Try something new. Lifelong learning has significant benefits – most importantly, it boosts brain health by creating new neural pathways. For instance, at Artfully Aging, our senior watercolor art program has engaged older adults who’ve never painted before. They return to each session excited to see their new talents bloom. Other activities include anything from dance classes and yoga sessions to pickleball and cooking classes.
2. Practice gratitude. It can be easy to give in to the negative when your body slows down, and you experience the loss of family and friends. However, focusing on what you are thankful for each day is essential for self-care. I used to love running, but I had to shift to walking for physical reasons. One thing I’m grateful for now is that I can take in the natural sights and sounds I missed when I was on the run.
3. Get social. Loneliness and isolation increase a senior’s risk of serious medical conditions. Joining group activities and meeting new people provides a necessary support system. To encourage storytelling, reminiscing, and a sense of belonging for our participants, we built discussion prompts into every Artfully Aging art session.
4. Be a role model. Last year, a study by AARP and National Geographic found people in their 40s are far more anxious and worried than those in their 70s and 80s. In fact, 90% of survey respondents ages 85 and up say their lives turned out just fine. In addition, 83% of seniors living with chronic conditions rated their health as good, very good, or excellent. By reframing your own perception of aging, you can change society’s stereotypes about growing older.
As seniors or seniors-to-be, we may be growing older, but we’re also growing wiser. By taking the lessons we’ve learned over the past decades and continuing in our pursuit of happiness, we can continue to enjoy our best lives for years to come!