You may remember this phrase – ‘live long and prosper’ – from Star Trek – a blessing spoken by Spock. The response to this greeting is “peace and long life”.
Who doesn’t want peace and long life? Healthy aging is a popular topic, given that every day 1000 Canadians turn 65. Over the next two decades, almost one-third of all Canadians will be 65 and older. Our health care system will need to adapt to meet the future needs of this growing silver tsunami.
And we as individuals will need to find ways to maintain our health and maximize life’s journey. And, it might actually be easier than we think!
New research shows that getting old does not necessarily come with the absolute decline in mental and physical functioning that many people expect. There is “impressive evidence that older today can be better than years past, especially in regards to brain health,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas-Dallas.
Similarly, studies in the UK show the decline of dementia has confounded the expectations of the researchers, according to a study published in the Lancet. Danish scientists said they’ve found people surviving past the age of 90 were mentally sharper than a decade ago.
Research similar to that going on at Chapman’s Center and in Denmark seems to be increasing as rapidly as the age of our populations. And just what are key elements to aging well according to the findings
Staying engaged mentally is possibly the most important one. Putting off retirement, for example. Working tends to keep people physically active, socially connected and mentally robust.
Just ask June Springer, who recently turned 90. Eight years ago, she was hired as a full-time receptionist at a Virginia plumbing and heating store. “I’d like to give credit to the company for hiring me at that age,” she said. “It’s a joy to work, being with people and keeping up with current events. I love doing what I do. As long as God grants me the brain to use, I’ll take it every day.”
Other things suggested to maximize healthy aging are:
– stay active – a little exercise is good for you
– stay connected – join a club, travel, volunteer
– eat a balanced diet (I think you told your kids this!)
Another key to longevity is having a spiritual practice/belief. Interest in the link between spirituality and aging has increased recently, primarily owing to research overwhelmingly demonstrating the various health benefits of spirituality and religious participation.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University, published a study, which found:
- Religious faith seemed to increase the ability of older people to cope with illness, disability, loss, and their own mortality.
- Religious people seem to spend less time in the hospital. In a study published in the Southern Medical Journal in 1998, Dr. Koenig and colleagues found that subjects who attended church at least once per week were 43% less likely to have been admitted to the hospital in the preceding year than non-churchgoing subjects. Plus, any hospital stays they did have were markedly shorter.
- Several studies correlate prayer and being sincerely engaged in a community of faith (studies indicate it doesn’t matter which faith) with improved health and well-being.
Chatelaine magazine did an interview with Katharine Weber, an active and healthy centenarian who, last spring, celebrated her 103rd birthday. In discussing her secret to her long and healthy life, Katherine says she finds peace in her belief in a higher power and the goodness of people. Her father was a Lutheran pastor, and she’s always taken an active role in church.
According to Leslie Beck’s Longevity Diet, when researchers look at the power of religion, they note that the key element seems to be believing in something outside of yourself. Even people who are not religious find increased well-being through giving back to their community in volunteer programs or being active out doors in nature.
Still active and fabulous octogenarian Sophia Loren perhaps puts it best: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
What’s the secret to aging gracefully and maximizing life’s journey? We can’t stop the clock, but we can keep our spirits young by being engaged, using our talents and giving to others. Live long and prosper.