Recently departed astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth (in 1962) and, at 77, the oldest person to board a space shuttle (in 1998).
“Too many people, when they get old, think that they have to live by the calendar,” Glenn said in response to concern about a man his age going into space.
At one end we had people like Glenn — vibrant, enthusiastic, defying age-related stereotypes. At the other end of the spectrum are people who seem to fade sooner than would be expected. Aches and pains become debilitating, diseases and their treatments sap strength or the early onset of Alzheimer’s seems to force the hands of time forward at a rapid pace.
Anxiety about aging is very common in the U.S. Caregivers of the elderly especially exhibit fear of aging because of their front row seat to the future. They often feel as though they’re witnessing a loss of ability that may be ahead for them.
More and more research is proving, however, that how we age is somewhat controllable. Some heredity diseases remain a threat, but medical advances still offer hope for a better quality of life.
To positively impact the aging process, consider these factors:
Physical activity level — Moving your body is good from infancy on and the more you move throughout your life, the better your body will function as you age. The best news about physical activity is that it’s never a lost cause. Start or re-start moderate activity at any point in your life to see quick improvements.
Human connection — In Dan Buettner’s “The Blue Zones,” specific areas of the world where people live longer and happier are identified. One of the things people who live in Blue Zones have in common is a close group of family and friends with whom they interact frequently. Online platforms like MeetUp.com are the modern equivalent of quilting bees and poker buddies.
Assess your health — Regular health screenings and physical exams are a must, but beyond that, take a close look at what health challenges you are experiencing and how your own actions (nutrition, physical activity, habits) are helping or hindering optimal health.
Start liking and loving yourself — The era of self acceptance has arrived, so take advantage of it! Start valuing who you are — a crusty curmudgeon, a passionate animal lover, a hard worker, a Dr. Who fanatic — by embracing how your unique personality is part of a vibrant human tapestry.
Offer your gifts to others — New York City geriatrics specialist Linda Fried used to write prescriptions for her patients that said, “Find something meaningful to do and report back.” It was no easy task, but when her patients succeeded, they reported that they felt 10, 20 and even 30 years younger. Once again, here’s where the Internet offers support. Identify what has meaning for you and see what Google can do to connect you to a person or organization that needs your skills.
None of the suggestions above are age-specific. Elementary school students have raised thousands of dollars for good causes and seniors have run marathons.
Positive aging can start at any age and there’s no time like the present!