How to Age Gracefully at Every Stage of Life

If people can age with class, Harlene Goodrich should be considered a maestro of maturity.

Goodrich, age 81, is a former schoolteacher who lives in Seal Beach, CA. Goodrich returned to school at age 50 to get her master’s degree and has since published a children’s book and won several playwriting contests. Despite serious back and knee surgery in the past decade, Goodrich didn’t shrink back from traveling to Washington, D.C., at age 79 to participate in a national protest march.

Goodrich says that aging well means proactively beginning the process while you’re still young by engaging with stimulating people and activities. This includes a healthy dose of humor. Recently, Goodrich gathered friends ages 65 to 83 and heard them complaining about aches and pains. She stopped the discussion and suggested they go around the table to give each woman five minutes to complain. That’s when everyone broke out laughing.

A Healthful Approach

No one can stop time, so it’s important to remember that aging isn’t something to be avoided. Instead, aging healthfully should be your goal.

This includes taking stock of your physical, social, and mental wellness, and prioritizing health as you would invest in your vehicle maintenance. Want to age healthfully? Here are some checkpoints in each category.

Physical Health

Early identification of health problems makes them easier to manage, so prioritize regular check-ups and complete the recommended health screenings for your age group. Here is a medical schedule to help you best navigate these guidelines.

Exercise is also vital. It’s estimated that physical functioning peaks around age 30, and at this point, you begin to lose muscle mass and function. Sedentary individuals can lose as much as 5% of their muscle mass each decade! However, you can maintain muscle through regular exercise, specifically strength or resistance training. Resistance training also strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Social Health

Aging can sometimes feel lonely, so it’s important to make new friends and widen your social circles.

How can you do this? Consider new hobbies, volunteer opportunities, or even classes at a nearby college. You can also expand connections by proactively befriending younger people. Intergenerational relationships can open doors for powerful mentoring opportunities while decreasing depression and helping you navigate changes in technology and culture.

Mental Health

Cognitively speaking, mental development continues into middle adulthood.

Later in life, your cognitive processing speeds may slow, but wisdom and experience-based problem solving will continue to increase.

It’s important to feed your mind and your soul to stay sharp mentally. This includes consistent sleep patterns, building new connections, and cultivating a sense of purpose. Practical steps may consist of caring for others (to maintain a positive outward focus), tackling puzzles or strategy games, using mental arithmetic instead of defaulting to a calculator, playing an instrument, and surrounding yourself with upbeat people.

Research shows that smiling, even a fake smile, can boost your mood. When you catch your reflection in the mirror or a window, smile at yourself, and you may be surprised at how it lifts your spirits. Smile at others, too; you might make their day!

Be a Participant in Your Journey

One of the essential things about aging is to do it proactively.

Often as people age, they feel isolated or embarrassed. And in today’s connected generation, there’s just no reason to shrink back from others. Aging healthfully means making a plan, asking for help, and being an active participant (versus a spectator) in your own life. That’s Harlene’s outlook:

“No one suddenly gets old,” Goodrich said. “I think we’re all on the path of life. I may be old in years, but I’m the same person who’s been living the same life. The key is to participate in each stage along the way.”

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