Phil Moeller: A guide to positive approaches to aging

Written by Phil Moeller, UnitedHealthcare Contributor, Medicare and Retirement Expert

Everyone’s definition of successful aging differs. Your focus may be on travel and leisure, spending time with family and friends, hobbies, volunteering, continuing to work, or all of the above.

Whatever your later-life plans and goals, many experts agree on common ingredients that will support your vision of successful aging. 

Let’s begin with the “easy ones” – good nutrition, exercise, regular medical care, and other things you already know you should be doing. If you need some nudges here, the National Institute on Aging has extensive information on healthy aging, including research on the health and longevity benefits of taking good care of yourself.

Underlying your physical activities is a set of attitudes and beliefs that are powerful components of successful aging. They can shape your later-life priorities, including whether you are motivated to keep up with healthy aging activities.

A review of positive aging research advice lists eight commonly found attributes:

  • Being adaptable and embracing change
  • Having a sense of humor
  • Being determined
  • Staying optimistic
  • Wanting to maintain social relationships
  • Learning to live with limitations
  • Being aware of the need to make the most of what you have
  • A desire to live a quality life

Digging a bit deeper, I interviewed more than 50 behavioral researchers for a series of 16 articles that I wrote for U.S. News & World Report. They were about the things people do to live enriching and purposeful lives. Here is a summary:

How strong and supportive are your personal relationships? Spouses, significant others, friends and family are some of the keys to meaningfulness and happiness. 

Are you lonely? Many older people live alone, while others can be lonely in an unhappy household. If your home life is not what you'd wish, evaluate how and when you might be able to change it. Volunteering can be a great way to match your interests and values with new things to do and the chance to make new friends. 

How well do you cope with adversity? Make a list of the major problems you've faced in the past few years. How did you deal with them, and what have you learned about yourself as a result? If you're stuck, it might be time to seek professional help.

Are you engaged with life? Learning new things and having meaningful activities are essential to happiness at all stages of life. Are there areas where you've checked out? If something is missing, what do you plan to do about it?

Do you buy things or experiences? Buying a new car can give you a jolt of satisfaction. Taking a driving adventure in your existing car with loved ones may be a gift that lasts a lifetime.

What role does money play in your life? You don't need buckets of money to be happy, but you do need some money. More importantly, successful aging requires a balance of what you want to do and what you can do. Does your balance need attention?

Is your home all you might want? As we get older, households tend to get cluttered with possessions we no longer need and which, if we admit it, no one in our family needs. Regular downsizing is good practice. 

Is your spiritual gas tank full or running on fumes? If an omniscient writer penned your obituary, would you cringe or be at peace? It is natural and healthy in later years to begin thinking about issues that transcend daily living and even life.

Having a positive outlook on aging has a big impact on daily and longer-term attitudes. On the flip side negative attitudes and exposure to age discrimination have proven to be bad for our mental and physical well-being.

Becca Levy, author of “Breaking the Age Code,” co-authored research that found people with mild cognitive impairment who had positive outlooks on aging were 30% more likely to regain normal cognition than those with negative beliefs about aging. People with these attitudes are also much more likely to attend to their physical well-being.

Best wishes wherever your journey takes you. Please be kind and take care.

Author bio

Philip Moeller is the principal author of the Get What’s Yours series of books about Social Security, Medicare, and health care. Read his Substack newsletter and his posts on Threads @healthauthor.

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