SENIOR SCOOP: Live positively, to help you live a long happy life, experts say

Pamela Kirkby

The advent of the new year brings enthusiasm for diet, exercise, and general well-being. We often start out with strong intentions, and then our resolve to reach our stringent fitness goals tends to fade.

However, what if instead of setting rigid guidelines we simply take a new general approach to better health, wellness and aging? The latest volume of my Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) newsletter, focused on just that — a three-pronged approach to positive aging: physical exercise, choice and independence and social interactions.

These concepts have been studied and concluded to help shape the quality and quantity of seniors’ lives. Living well includes making better choices in order to improve life, and a positive attitude, and perception, can significantly impact longevity.

The National Institute on Aging has recently set goals to better understand both the biology of aging and identifying psychological, behavioral, and social processes that influence health and quality of life. In one of their research studies published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (9/2020), scientists supported previous research linking a positive mental outlook to good health.

In a joint study conducted by Yale and Miami University, researchers essentially concluded that a positive self-perception on aging can prolong life expectancy. Another study by a group including one of these same Yale researchers concluded that “positive age-beliefs protect against dementia even among elders with high-risk gene.”

These studies are not the only indication that a positive mindset can overcome age-related decline; we see and hear about examples of this all of the time.

In fact, I have a great aunt who will celebrate her 108th birthday this coming April, and she has enjoyed generally excellent physical and mental health for her entire life. What is her secret? She is pure of heart, has immeasurable faith and has a ridiculously positive attitude!

The obvious standout when thinking about an approach to aging well is physical exercise. Yet, there are more benefits to exercise beside creating a strong body that performs better. Exercise also improves mood and is said to be as effective as medication for treating depression, regardless of age.

Additionally, there is new evidence that physical exercise can reverse brain aging. A research article “Blood factors transfer beneficial effects of exercise on neurogenesis and cognition to the aged brain” published in the July, 2020 Science magazine indicated that a protein produced in the liver during exercise (GPLD1) causes a chain reaction in the body that improves cognitive function, thus identifying “a liver-to-brain axis by which blood factors can transfer the benefits of exercise in old age.”

Of course, exercise can include numerous activities beyond walking. Since most of us are not going to the gym or participating in group activities, there are options offered online via Zoom, or even on television. Puttering in the yard and gardening are great physical activities too, even now during the cold weather.

My grandmother had a small one-level home on a large piece of land with lots of trees. I remember her constantly picking up twigs and sticks to keep the yard clean, no matter the weather. I believe that the yard maintenance and living independently contributed to her good health and long life.

And speaking of independence, another important and vastly studied concept in the field of gerontology is the effect of choice and responsibility in older adults. Housing plays a major role in the independence of seniors, and there is currently much research surrounding the benefits of aging in place.

Independent living communities are replacing senior care facilities, because most seniors don’t need assistance with their daily needs, but enjoy living in a community of like-minded adults. Decades ago, we saw the institutionalization of the nursing home because it was widely accepted that old age was synonymous with the inability to care for oneself due to physical weakness and infirmity. That is no longer the case.

In an article in The Gerontologist entitled “Perceived Control in the Lives of Older Adults: The Influence of Langer and Rodin’s Work on Gerontological Theory, Policy, and Practice” one of the authors stated “[a]ctive participation in one’s own well-being hinges in part on the belief that one is capable of having some control over one’s own successful functioning within one’s particular environment. Understanding how best to provide older adults with opportunities to engage in and enhance self-control has become a goal of researchers and practitioners aiming to improve the lives of aging individuals.”

The ability to make decisions and choices irrefutably correlates to vitality, which in turn fosters that independent spirit needed for optimum well-being.

We are hearing more reports about how loneliness is one of the highest contributing risk factors to an early death. It is a sad statistic for sure, and the pandemic has exacerbated this risk factor due to severely limited social interactions for all of us. We have to proactively ensure that we maintain relationships, even from afar. It’s as important as diet and exercise.

In a study by Brigham Young University professors, one was quoted as stating “We take relationships for granted as humans — we’re like fish that don’t notice the water. That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

Thank goodness for technology! When we have to socially distance, we can use the telephone and computer to stay connected instead of meeting in person. We are becoming more familiar with services such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and more; and multi-player online games are growing more popular among older adults. Even telemedicine has become the norm for doctors and patients in 2020, and quite possibly has been the impetus for getting many seniors online.

Living well is not only a New Year’s resolution, but a mindset for all ages. Aging well incorporates a positive attitude, physical exercise, a sense of independence, and healthy relationships. Seniors aren’t the only demographic that can benefit from these important concepts — continued research about improving health and longevity benefits all. Cheers to a healthy New Year.

Pam Kirkby lives in Branford with her husband and children. She is a realtor with William Raveis Real Estate and serves all age groups and areas, but has a special affinity to seniors and has a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation. Website, PamelaKirkby.raveis.com; email, pamela.kirkby@raveis.com.

Connecticut Media Group