The Science of Aging: What You Need to Learn Today, Not to Be Afraid of Old Age

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With every new decade, life expectancy throughout most of the countries in our world is growing. As predicted by the Seattle Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which conducted the study “How healthy will we be in 2040,” people in developed countries are seeing to live five years longer, while people in developing once will be living ten years longer by 2040.  

As of today, in almost all countries of Western Europe, life expectancy exceeds 80 years, and if the forecasts of specialists from Seattle are correct, by the middle of the century, celebrating the 90th birthday will be a new normal. However, one daunting setback here can significantly spoil the impression of the achievements of medicine, most of the extra years that mankind conquers from death fall in old age. In fact, by stretching the life expectancy, we are prolonging old age, the period of our life that many of us are actually seriously afraid of.

Talk all you want about how lucky our generation is, as compared to our parents or grandparents, to be able to enjoy advanced healthcare possibilities and a thrilling life full of adventures when we finally have a lot of free time on our hands…yet, the fall season of our life remains not a fun ride at all. Loneliness, physical limitations, the risk of cognitive impairment – what can challenge these almost inevitable companions of the last decades of life? Fortunately, science is optimistic: we already have some tools.

Graceful aging? A fulfilling life!

We are all different, living our unique lives, fighting individual circumstances, dreaming, and achieving. Yet, based on the similarity of certain features, scientists specializing in old age issues came up with four types of aging: constructive, passive, defensive, and active-aggressive, based on “The impact of depressive symptomatology on physical disability: MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging” research.

How exactly we will behave at an older age depends not only on our type of nervous system or temperament but also on our lifestyle. The habits we develop over the years and even the character traits play an important role. The most positive of all types is what is called constructive. People who stick to this aging strategy manage to accept their age and at the same time be interested in the future. They don’t get stuck in regrets about the past or worries or fear about negative changes in the present or future. They will retain the ability to enjoy life, maintain warm relations with other people, and a sense of humor while agreeing with their role as an elderly person, calmly and soberly relate to the need to stop working and retire. They even perceive the probability of death without much anxiety. At the same time, they continue to plan for the future, and these plans aim to fulfill their own needs and the needs of their loved ones. And most importantly, they persist in the ability to rejoice in what awaits them in the future.

Can anyone learn this approach? Most certainly, such an attitude to life, yourself, and aging takes a while to develop. In most cases, it is just how a person has lived their entire life. Nevertheless, if you already feel that you lack a conscientious attitude to life around you, that you struggle to accept life as it is, can’t help regretting things you can’t do or get, and keep clinging to the past, perhaps the time has come for you to make a dramatic change!

What qualities promote successful aging?

It’s kind of amazing that science has got the answer to that too! Research called “Older Adults’ Perspectives on Successful Aging,” where almost a thousand people over 80 took part, showed that resilience is a character trait facilitating a happy old age philosophy. In other words, it is the ability to adapt to new circumstances, find bright sides and opportunities in a new state, and not regret lost opportunities.

This quality is important at any age because, unfortunately, losses, serious illnesses, and other circumstances that can change life beyond recognition can happen in adolescence and even in childhood. But it is exactly in old age when the ability to cope with new circumstances, adapt to them, and preserve the very core of your personality unchanged, turns out to be the most important. So no matter how old you are, learn to see the opportunities in every crisis. Sometimes doors close because it’s time you pulled yourself together and started moving forward in another direction. Trust the transition.

  • Keeping an eye on the prize

One more critical feature that can help not only keep you up and going in old age but may actually slow down the aging processes in the human body is the strong capacity for setting goals and thinking through the action plan. Experts have collected data from a large-scale US national survey on the health status of people over 50. Over the years, they monitored the physical function of nearly 4,500 study participants, asking volunteers to complete questionnaires about physical and psychological health. The study was named “Association Between Purpose in Life and Objective Measures of Physical Function in Older Adults.” The participants who noted that they have certain goals in life, even seemingly the most modest and unimportant, displayed the best physical performance – by 14%.

How does it work? The authors of the study are convinced that people with some kind of goal in life. As a result, tend to take better care of their health, are more attentive to their condition, do regular medical checkups and never ignore the recommendations of specialists. They are also more active and more likely to communicate with other people, thereby fighting loneliness which is destructive for the elderly.

  • Do you have a hobby?

This question is gaining importance the older we get. As long as we work, raise children, and remain actively involved in life and society, we have no problems with our goals in life. On the contrary, at times, there are even too many of them, and we feel overwhelmed. Yet, sooner or later, most of us have to retire and answer the question: what is it that makes me get out of bed today? Alas, the temptation to relax and allow yourself to indulge in all those forbidden pleasures you couldn’t do for decades seems legit. Probably, right now, the idea of staying in bed (or dozing off on the couch) and watching TV from dawn to dusk may appear easier and even more pleasant. Yet, in the end, the moment will inevitably come when your own life seems too empty and aimless. A hobby or any activity an elderly person takes a serious interest in and is mentally invested in can be considered a survival trigger. If you still haven’t found the “job” of your dream, keep looking. Below you will find a few tips on how to find the thing you will love.

  • Reflect on the things that made you happy

Most of us seem to never have time for something we would love to do; we have no strength, time, or money for all those nice things. Someone dreamed of singing, someone would love to learn to paint, design clothes, or do carpentry professionally. Why not remember what you wanted to learn once and start doing it now? Do not think about how old you will be when you graduate, don’t buy into this nonsense that you are allegedly too old or too serious for something. The only thing that really matters is how much you want it. If every training day makes you a little bit happier, that’s fantastic.

  • Follow the right example

Sometimes finding your own lifetime project is difficult if you don’t know what to start with or just can’t come across a really decent idea. Sometimes, we may not notice something special that might add more meaning to our life. Do your own research, stay inquisitive and curious about what your friends and acquaintances are up to, and take a look at what hobbies and initiatives some celebrities might be pursuing. It’s possible that some of those things might be of interest to you as well. 

  • Stay open-minded and gather feedback

Sometimes, the onlooker sees most of the game, and the same applies to who we see ourselves versus what those around us see. Sadly, most of us can’t be objective when it comes to describing or judging ourselves. Often, we do not even imagine how amazing we really are. Ask your loved ones and friends to share what your qualities really impress them and which of your abilities they kind of envy. Finally, you can ask directly what they think you should do better and what you could potentially do best. The answers are likely to surprise you!

  • Keep dreaming

Depending on your view, a goal may come across as a dream with a tangible to-do list. Try to imagine your ideal future – say, five years from now. Describe your perfect day in as much detail as possible, literally by the hour, with sounds, smells, and colors. Think realistically and pragmatically about what you need to do to make this happen. Believe me, a hobby will come naturally.

  • Find someone who’d inspire you

Look around, and you will most likely find somebody whose life path, accomplishments, or just character are absolutely admirable. You might want to try taking after them in some way or another. It may help ameliorate certain facets of your life and your own perception of yourself.

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself

One of the most common mistakes that make you fall victim to becoming one step shy of your new life dream is being overly critical of yourself and what you have achieved so far. It should be obvious that failures and setbacks are implacable companions whenever we initiate new activities in life or start learning something new. It may lead to your motivation level plunging, yet you ought to never forget that this is the path everyone goes through, including the leaders in your chosen field. You should stop expecting incredible things from yourself all the time. It may kill the desire to work further in the direction you love and result in burnout and loss of focus on life. It’s better to try splitting your way into a few smaller milestones, comparing your results not with someone else’s results but with yours in the past. Reward yourself for every new accomplishment, every little step of your way. Do your best to enjoy the process: we never know whether we are destined to get where we want, yet life is here, happening to us right now, and it happens quickly.

The art of aging 

It looks like every next decade, the events in the international community are happening with an increased speed, which means the necessity arises to stay flexible and keep your finger on the pulse. It gains even more importance for elderly people as they often struggle to keep up with the trends in healthcare, technology, politics, business, and many other domains of life. Therefore, all of us need to learn the art of aging meaningfully. If we learn to be grateful for the small gifts of life, focus on new opportunities that lie ahead, and never regret anything, we will no longer be intimidated by aging and can turn it into a new beginning.

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