There seems to be a formula for healthy aging, suggested by the latest research on centenarians and the research comparing people in their 20’s – 40’s to those in their 60’s – 90’s. Some of the predictors of healthy aging include: physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, spiritual and sexual. Maintaining health and wellness in each of these areas may not prolong your life, but it will certainly improve the quality and enjoyment of your daily existence as you age. And, you may be surprised to find your are living longer than you ever imagined possible.
Physical Predictors of Healthy Aging
A supplement to the November/December 2006 Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior presented the new MyPyramid Food Guidance System, an updated replacement of the former Food Guide Pyramid, based upon research completed over several years.
According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), a healthy diet:
o emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grain and fat-free or low- fat milk and milk products
o includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
o is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars
Tufts University researchers have updated their Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults to correspond with the MyPyramid. This modified version of the MyPyramid continues to emphasize nutrient-dense food choices and the importance of fluid balance, but has added additional guidance about forms of foods that could best meet the unique needs of older adults. In addition, there is greater emphasis upon the importance of regular physical activity.
The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults was published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. Added to the new pyramid is a foundation depicting physical activities characteristic of older adults, such as walking, yard work and swimming.
Government statistics indicate that obesity in adults 70 years and older has been increasing, physical activity is one way to avoid weight gain in later years and its adverse effects. Older adults tend to need fewer calories as they age because their metabolic rates tend to slow down. Even if they continue to exercise, they are often not quite as physically active as when they were younger. But their bodies still require the same or higher levels of nutrients to maintain optimal health. Regular physical activity is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease, lower body weight and improved quality of life for older adults.
The Tufts University recommendations for older adults include the following:
o Whole, enriched, and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice & 100% wheat bread
o Bright-colored vegetables such as carrots and broccoli
o Deep-colored fruit such as berries and melon
o Low- and non-fat dairy products such as yogurt and low-lactose milk
o Dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs
o Liquid vegetable oils and soft spreads low in saturated and trans fat
o Fluid intake
o Physical activity such as walking, house work and yard work.
Intellectual Predictors of Healthy Aging
Healthy aging requires keeping our minds active before and especially after retirement, regularly learning something new and participating in new activities, maintaining an interest in and passion for reading and current events, and often reflecting on the good things in life.
Emotional Predictors of Healthy Aging
Emotionally healthy people are optimistic, generally happy with life, rarely hostile, recover quickly from angry episodes, and tend to live longer. They cope well with stress, maintaining a good sense of humor and a positive attitude, regardless of how the circumstances in their life unfold, and they continue to develop many outlets for recreation and relaxation.
Relational Predictors of Healthy Aging
Those who remain healthy as they age tend to feel supported by a large social network of family and friends. They tend to frequently help others, have many younger friends, remain in successful marriages or enjoy a full single life, attending social functions and sharing happy events with others.
Spiritual Predictors of Healthy Aging
Spiritually connected people tend to fare better as they age. Spiritual commitments and practices, such as daily prayer, meditation, or regular church attendance, help them to maintain a strong sense of personal purpose and meaning in life as well as ongoing appreciation of the beauty and power of nature and its natural rhythms and cycles.
Sexual Predictors of Healthy Aging
Those who age successfully continue to feel joyful and passionate about life. They tend to continue to derive sensual and sexual pleasure, within their own body, in physical and emotional contact with others, and in connection with the natural environment.
The Formula for Healthy Aging seems to include:
o A large supportive social network of family, friends, and neighbors
o A daily spiritual practice and faith in a higher power
o A healthy lifestyle including exercise, nutrition, rest, sleep and play
o An active imagination, intellectual stimulation, and a passion for learning
o Emotional well being, an optimistic outlook, and a good sense of humor
o Passion for life, sensual and sexual aliveness, and appreciation of nature