There are nearly five million seniors in Canada — a record high for a rapidly growing segment of the population which is expected to put increasing pressure on the economy and social programs countrywide. Like all developed countries, Canada is looking for ways to cope with the coming wave of grey.
Rather than just coping, is there anything we can do to optimize aging?
McMaster University has a newly founded study – ‘Optimal Aging Initiative’ – designed to come up with innovative ways to help seniors remain independent as they age. This kind of innovation can empower seniors to live with more autonomy – and not feel they are a burden.
What are some steps that we can all take to now to optimize growing older?
Let’s look at 3:
1. Diet and Exercise
Healthy lifestyle choices are a key factor in optimal aging – like diet and exercise.
Seniors have found using dietary guidelines and paying attention to when, why, and where they eat, can change unhealthy eating patterns.
One of the fastest growing activities for the 50 years and older is running – marathons even! Twice as many older individuals have been participating in marathons during the past two decades. Maybe running a marathon is not your idea of becoming fit, but studies find, even if you haven’t previously bothered with exercise, getting regular exercise appears to reshape the landscape of aging.
With an aging population of Canadians, the proportion of seniors participating in regular physical activity continues to grow.
2. Become Engaged
With your health care, that is! Taking steps to enhance your own wellbeing has been shown to help patients stay healthier than if they rely entirely on the healthcare system. A recent study of comparative health care provision in countries similar to Canada’s showed that patients who take a more active role in managing their own health and wellness were able to achieve significant health system quality outcomes such as low wait times for emergency care, lower hospital occupancy rates, and lower health system costs per capita.
Better conversations and communication with a health care provider and good health information can empower seniors to make better decisions for more effective care.
3. Religion and Spirituality
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University, has 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 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 toLeslie Beck’s Longevity Diet, when researchers look at the power of religion, they note the important benefits of 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.
In summary, seniors are the fastest growing group in Canada. Taking steps to optimize this life experience has significant potential to empower seniors to remain independent, enjoy extra years of quality life, and not be a burden on either our economic or social systems. They can instead be a blessing on any system in which they become engaged. Sounds like a great future!