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Do You Know the Secret Behind Healthy Aging?

written by Skye Sherman - Sep 11, 2023
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Mar 14, 2024

Photo Credit: by
Photo Credit: by

Everybody wants to get older, but that doesn’t mean the process is easy, and it’s not always pleasant. While it sure beats the alternative, getting older can be a real pain (literally!). However, you can age gracefully and healthfully instead of getting old and crabby.

It’s no secret that if you really want to master healthy aging, you’ll need to make some lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, eating right, and staying active. We all know that smoking too much, drinking too much alcohol, and spending too much time in the sun without sunscreen can make us age faster and harder (and even lead to high blood pressure, which can come with plenty of problems of its own).

Want to know some time tested factors that influence aging? How do some people age with poise? Read on to learn more about healthy aging trends and surprising factors that influence healthy aging.

What is aging and do you really want to age?

Did you know the world is getting older? According to the World Health Organization, “People worldwide are living longer. Today most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. Every country in the world is experiencing growth in both size and the proportion of older individuals in the population. By 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over.”

That’s why knowing about healthy aging is getting more important than ever before!

But not all aging is created equally. As the WHO puts it, “There is no typical older person. Some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 30-year-olds. Other people experience significant declines in capacities at much younger ages.”

In addition, while some cultures respect and embrace their elders, treating them as revered members of society, other cultures tend to look down on the elderly or treat them as if they are a burden or deadweight on society. Obviously, this can really influence how an older person feels about themselves.

What’s essential to remember is that if you’re not old now, one day, you’re going to be (if all goes well!). So thinking now about healthy aging is going to matter to you one way or the other.

So what is the process of aging, really? Is aging natural or unnatural?

The WHO states, “At the biological level, aging results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease and ultimately death. These changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. The diversity seen in older age is not random. Beyond biological changes, aging is often associated with other life transitions such as retirement, relocation to more appropriate housing and the death of friends and partners.”

Everyone wants to live a long life, but no one wants to look like they’ve aged. That’s quite the conundrum! As people get older, they begin to realize more and more that looks will fade, but what you really want in your old age is to feel happy and driven by a sense of purpose.

So how do you embrace healthy aging?

Healthy aging trends

The real secret behind healthy aging is encouraging: you’re not doomed by your genetics (or automatically going to age gracefully just because your forefathers have). Instead, according to the WHO, the environment in which you find yourself will have the biggest impact on your healthy aging:

“Although some of the variations in older people’s health are genetic, most is due to people’s physical and social environments – including their homes, neighbourhoods, and communities, as well as their personal characteristics – such as their sex, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. The environments that people live in as children – or even as developing fetuses – combined with their personal characteristics, have long-term effects on how they age.”

While you can’t necessarily choose what you’re exposed to in your early years, you do get to choose how you live out your adult and elderly years. Seek support, purpose, and plenty to keep you busy with happy, uplifting things and watch yourself thrive, blossom, and grow, even in the years beyond what you might have thought was your prime.

One of the most important aspects of healthy aging is a sense of purpose.

For some people, that’s family, friends, or helping out; for others, they enjoy their work or hobby. The most important thing is to stay healthy enough to lead as active a lifestyle as you choose. No one wants to feel the aches and pains of aging, but are they really willing to put in the work of eating a balanced, nutritious diet and staying active and engaged with the world around them? It can get difficult to manage, but that’s the real secret to aging healthily.

And remember: eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical exercise and staying active, and staying away from tobacco will all improve your aging outcomes, both physically and mentally.

Eat fewer calories (but don’t become malnourished)

It’s well known that obesity and being overweight can shorten your life. But should you limit what you eat to extreme levels? Some research suggests that caloric restriction can be a healthy aspect of aging, as long as you don’t become malnourished in the process.

Neuroscience News states, “Healthy aging is achievable through dietary change without restriction by potentially optimising diet, and that ill-health is not an inevitable part of the aging process.”

Confused about what exactly this means? The article continues, “Scientists have long known that caloric restriction – intentionally consuming far less calories than normal without becoming malnourished – improves health in later life and may even extend life. However, studies in mice show that caloric restriction really needs to be maintained throughout life to achieve this impact, and the health benefits disappear when a normal diet is resumed.”

In other words, you might be able to shorten the period of ill health toward the end of life not just by restricting your calorie intake forever but by making healthier, lighter diet choices. Aging and gut health are more tied together than you might expect. The better you eat throughout your life, the better you will fare as you age.

Your mind can age you faster than your body does

One of the biggest factors that can influence aging, but a factor that people tend to look at last, is mindset. What you perceive and believe about the world really is everything! It might sound a little too woo-woo or New Age for you, but it’s true. If you think old, you’ll feel old.

TIME points out that believing unhelpful myths about aging will actually make you age faster: “When scientists examined the data to determine the relationship between mindset, health and longevity, they found something staggering. In this study, a positive mindset toward aging—meaning, ‘I’m excited about the possibilities in the second half of my life, and I believe my best days are ahead of me’—translated into an extra eight years of healthy longevity.”

This may sound unbelievable to you, but it’s true. This research finding proves itself to be true again and again. If you think happy thoughts about getting older and look forward to the future with a positive outlook, the science says you’ll lead a longer, happier, and healthier life.

TIME continues, “The implications? Changing your mindset toward aging has as much impact on longevity as quitting smoking, and more impact than losing weight, even if you’re obese. … If you treat people in their later years—including yourself—as if they’re old, slow and decrepit, this has a direct negative impact on their mental and physical well-being.”

The report also states, “people subjected to negative stereotypes around aging in their twenties, thirties and forties—by the time they reach their sixties—exhibited a thirty percent greater decline in memory than controls.”

Can you believe it? You might assume that cognitive decline or diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia is outside of your control or that it’s something you can only change by doing more crossword puzzles or taking up birdwatching. But the truth is that negative (or positive) thoughts about aging will have more of an impact on your aging wellbeing than almost anything else.

How to look forward to aging

Now that you know how important mindset is to healthy aging, you can take a look at how to improve your outlook on aging.

Most people talk about aging with dread, sadness, or chagrin. They don’t want to age (or at least don’t want to look like they’ve aged!). Getting old isn’t all heart medications and erectile dysfunction drugs.

But as Hum Nutrition points out, there are actually a lot of things to look forward to about aging! And it’s vital to start focusing on those things if you want to experience healthy aging:

● “Since major life milestones—such as major career shifts or purchasing your first home—are typically out of the way, you’ll have fewer stressful decisions to make. In short, older people become more settled into the rhythm of their lives and walk on solid ground. … Older folks know how to be present and see the good in life. …

● Adults aged 65 to 85 recalled more information tied to positive than negative experiences. … Your ability to focus on the good is one of the best things that get better with age. This benefit of aging is especially attractive for those who tend to let feelings of resentment, disappointment, and regret linger. …

● A 2008 survey of 340,000 Americans aged 18 to 85 found that by the age of 50, participants were much less likely to report holding onto stress and anger. In turn, hedonic well-being (affective feelings of happiness, pleasure, etc.) appears to improve by this age … negative emotions become less frequent even through the age of 60. In fact, older individuals are better at controlling their emotions and did not overthink as much as when they were younger.…

Older individuals are also better at executive functioning skills and better able to process information, especially new information.

● Sexual satisfaction can actually get better with age. In Sweden, researchers evaluated the sexual activity of septuagenarians at present and two to three decades prior. They found that over time, men’s sexual activity increased from 47 to 66 percent, while women’s activity increased from 12 to 34 percent. …

● According to a 2011 study, older populations are better than their younger counterparts at making informed decisions that influence rewards later on. … adults become less impulsive and more rational with age. Further, they appear to be better at fully assessing situations for long-term gain, rather than instant gratification.”

As you can see, getting older is no curse or stage of life to be dreaded, especially if you learn how to embrace healthy aging. Getting older doesn’t have to mean declining in health or feeling worse. In fact, it can actually mean that life gets better.

Aging well is a state of mind and a decision of the body. Having a strong sense of purpose and feeling gratitude for your life will add more happy years to your book.

If you seek out healthy aging by improving your outlook, prioritizing your mental and physical health, reducing your exposure to major health risks by making healthy choices, and filling your life with things you love – and if you decide to enjoy using all the hard-earned wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years – your older years can truly be your golden years.

Learn to look forward to each passing year with expectancy, excitement, and joy.



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