Today, in my opinion, what defines the physical aspects of aging vibrantly has undergone the greatest expansion since Rowe and Kahn first addressed the murky issue of “successful aging.” R&K narrowed their pool of vibrant agers to the small majority of people exhibiting an “absence or avoidance of disease and/or disability, and the maintenance of high levels of physical functioning.” Later, researchers began asking seniors themselves (Gee, what a novel concept ;-0) where they rated their “health life.” Interestingly, they rank the absence of disability and disease third, after 1) an engagement with life, and 2) an active life. We will further explore these ideas in subsequent posts this month, but for now our lens is turned on the physical aspects.
Millions of seniors in America and around the world believe they are aging vibrantly. This is in spite of having some disabilities or chronic diseases, which may limit their physical activities, or call for adaptation of their earlier levels of ability. Researchers at the University of California at Berkley found this to be true. I love this attitude, as it mirrors my worldview of the glass half-full, and reflects yet another aspect of vibrant aging— compensation. In a study from the UK where actual words of seniors are included, those older adults said, as they have gotten older they have modified their intensity level, range, and time spent doing physical activities to coincide with their energy level and ability at the time. Far from giving up they are adapting and compensating for their limitations. One lady who was a life-long dog lover and avid gardener “downsized,” (her word) by adopting a cat and becoming a “potted gardener.” Well done, I say! Over and over again, older adults at every stage, who are still actively engaged in the game of life, are adapting similarly, even those with disabilities and diseases. What is consistent among these spry folks is their attitude about aging. Even with fewer physical abilities, people who have a positive attitude about life and about aging, and see themselves as aging well, are rated by researchers as “younger” than their chronological age. In some cases by up to a decade making the phrase “young at heart” more than just a song by Johnny Richards and a movie starring Doris Day and Ol’ Blue Eyes.
In another study done through the Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, scientists also questioned seniors about what vibrant aging meant to them. The number one answer was being autonomous or independent for as long as possible: “Being able to take care of myself until close to the time of death” and, “being able to meet all my needs and some of my wants.” The seniors in the UK also emphasized this point of self-care. While that also brings in cognitive functioning, a large part of staying independent sits squarely in the physical realm. Their third priority was to “remain free of chronic disease.” A wish we all share, no matter our age.
To what does all these desires point? Keeping one’s body-- one’s house, in order. My top recommendations for how to keep the home fires lit? Exercise is number one, as our bodies were made to move, and the more we move and groove them, as I discussed in detail last spring, the better off we will be. Into the good health mix I add clean, unprocessed, and organic when possible, food, and a range of researched supplements to cover any shortfalls. I sprinkle in plenty of high quality, filtered water and turn the lights out for at least seven hours every night. The result will be the very best version of you, ready to rumble.
Until next time…Be Vibrant!