Maintaining wellbeing in later life stages

A healthy lifestyle for seniors includes fulfilling social and emotional needs.

According to Michigan State University Extension, there are many things you can do to help yourself age well. Physical activity, exercise and making healthy food choices are the most commonly recommended practices to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Emerging research also indicates that engaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking a class, learning a new skill or volunteering in your community, may also help maintain your wellbeing as you age. The National Institute on Aging reports that seniors who volunteer in meaningful service increase their cognitive, social and physical activity levels. Participants also report feeling personal satisfaction from the experience. Although more research is needed, researchers think that over the long-term, the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency and dementia in later life.

Social connections also impact longevity. A study that followed 1,810 adults ages 75 and older, over an 18-year period found that participants who were active physically, mentally and socially were most likely to live past age 90. Increases in lifespan were also seen in those with chronic conditions. The study found that individuals who lived the longest participated in physical activity, didn’t smoke and engaged in leisure activities such as reading books or newspapers, doing crossword puzzles or painting, and also had a large social network. 

Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations or other local groups provides social support and opportunities to share their personal interests with others. Others may find fulfillment in helping others, perhaps serving meals to homeless people or organizing clothing donations. Older adults who take part in these types of activities often do so to make a difference in their communities and feel good about what they are doing. They continue to learn about themselves as they step out of their comfort zone and increase their sense of self-worth as they develop new skills or share their knowledge. They may also grow more connections among brain cells by challenging themselves to solve a puzzle, learn a new musical instrument, play a board or card game or write a story.

Another aspect of self-discovery includes knowing our limits and managing stress. Stress affects the way we think, our moods and our ability to remember. In fact, the hormones our bodies release when we are under stress may shrink the brain, affecting memory and learning. Stress can also cause or contribute to depression and anxiety. It is important to take time to relax and to develop gratitude and appreciation for the people and things we enjoy. Seniors are wise to set realistic goals and pace themselves in order to accommodate physical and mental changes that occur. While certain changes in mental abilities are inevitable as we age, we retain our ability to change and be flexible, and our ability to grow intellectually and emotionally.

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