Aging Well

“Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”  (Isaiah 46:3-4)

Everyone knows that as we age, our minds and bodies decline, and life inevitably becomes less satisfying and enjoyable. Everyone knows that cognitive (mental ability) decline is inevitable. Everyone knows that as we get old, we become less productive … well, everyone, it seems is wrong! A growing body of scientific research shows that, in my ways, life gets better as we get older… <!–split–>

A Wall Street Journal report notes, “contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of loneliness, depression, and decline, a growing body of evidence indicates that our moods and overall sense of well-being improve with age.”

Let’s debunk some of the common myths ….

MYTH # 1:  Depression is more prevalent.  Research indicates that emotional well-being improves until the 70’s when it levels off. Older adults tend to focus on positive rather than negative motions and memories, because they tend to prioritize emotional meaning and satisfaction: older adults tend to be happier, less anxious, less angry, and tend to adapt well to the circumstances.

MYTH # 2: Cognitive decline is inevitable.  As we age, our brains undergo structural changes, and neurons that carry messages becomes less efficient, causing concentration and memory slip (this begins around the age of 30!) But recent discoveries indicate that – barring dementia – older adults perform better in the real world. Cognitive tests often underestimate the true abilities of older adults; while in the real world, most of what we do is based on the knowledge we have acquired, and older adults who are tested in familiar situations show few of the deficits that crop up in laboratory tests!  (Learning new skills – learning to quilt, use an iPad, or take digital photos – help us to improve memory and processing speed.)

MYTH # 3: Older workers are less productive. Workers 55 and older make up 22% of the U.S. workforce, up from 12% in 1992. The majority of academic studies shows “virtually no relationship between age and job performance.” In fact, some studies show that older adults have a performance “edge” because they seem to know better how to avoid serious errors (experience, plus judgment).

MYTH # 4:  Loneliness is more likely. As people age, their social circles contract, but friendships tend to improve with age … we know who our real friends are! Older adults report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict, and closer ties with members of this social networks than younger adults and fewer problematic relationships that case them distress. They have learned to eliminate those people from their social circle whom they feel less close to and maximize the time with close partners who are more emotionally satisfying.

MYTH # 5:  Creativity declines with age. Studies dating back as far as the 1800’s show midlife as the time when artists and scholars are most prolific. Historians and philosophers may reach their peak output when they’re in the 60’s, while conceptual artists tend to do their best work in their 20’s-30’s. Experimental artists requires a few more decades to reach full potential, improving with experience. Think Mark Twain, Paul Cezanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Frost who all relied on wisdom, which increases with age.

MYTH # 6: More exercise is better!  When it comes to improving health and longevity, exercise is key, but a growing number of studies show that more is not always better. In research published in 2013 scientists at institutions including Iowa State University, found that long-term strenuous endurance exercise may cause “overuse injury” to the heart. Their recommendations: stick to a moderate workout of no more than 50-60 minutes of exercise daily, and take at least one day off each week. Current guidelines suggest 30 minutes of moderate exercise – walking at a good pace – 5-6 days a week still promotes health without the risks of injury that strenuous exercise may inflict. Doing it with a walking partner gets you out, gets you active, and affords you the social contact that it as important as loose limbs!

For more information, go to www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/secrets-of-aging-well by Marla Lichtsinn, RN, MPA, FCN, Parish Nurse    (permission granted to reprint)

Your Parish Nurse, Kara