Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Successful Aging

It's pretty hard to defy gravity if your body and mind are going down hill, so here's a quick overview of what I've learned over the past decade about successful aging:

  • In 10 years, 1 out of 5 people will be over 65. 
  • The stereotype of old people as hard of hearing and stooped over with a cane is just that—a stereotype.
  • Being old is not the same as being sick.  
  • What is normal in old age is much more variable than what is normal at, say, 30.
  • At any age, it’s normal to have some trouble with memory.  It's all a matter of degree.
  • Successful aging is not largely dependant on genes.  Our habits are more important than our DNA.
  • The most important thing we can do to help our memory, cognition, mood and sleep is to exercise at least a 1/2 hour every day.  Vacuuming, gardening, walking—all count as exercise.
  • Positive thinking pays off.  People who focus on what they can still do rather than being burdened by what they can no longer do are generally healthier.
  • The value of volunteering and continued work cannot be overstated.
  • Good nutrition and light alcohol (no more) pay dividends.
  • Continued social engagement pays off as well
  • It’s important to continue to use our minds and practice doing things in a different way.  Even something as simple as using the left hand instead of the right to open a door keeps the brain in good working order, as do computerized brain exercises that focus on increasing memory speed.  Bridge, though not my cup of tea, is especially beneficial.  These things might not prevent dementia, but they are important in terms of maintaining our cognitive abilities.
  • Lifelong learning is very important, as is continuing to pursue your passions.
  • You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  Witness my 88-year old mom (see above photo) learning to use an iPad.

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