When organizations like WHO and the UN approach active aging, it is from the viewpoint of policies and high-level societal shifts that need to occur to support the world’s aging populations. They tackle how to make cities around the world more age-friendly, how to combat ageism, and how to improve long-term care on a global scale.
How you can practice active, healthy aging right now
While you may not be able to affect the kind of global changes that large government agencies are responsible for, you can make a difference in your own life. By making small lifestyle changes, you can set yourself up to live a long, healthy life that aligns with the active aging theory.
The goal of active aging is to have the “functional ability” to maintain overall well-being as you age. Functional ability is defined as the ability to:
- Meet your basic needs,
- Learn, develop, and make decisions,
- Be independently mobile,
- Build and maintain relationships,
- Contribute to society.
What can you do now to build your functional ability and maintain it throughout your life? Let’s look at 5 ways you can make healthy aging a priority in your life whether you’re 47 or 74.
1. Get physically active
Starting to incorporate physical activity into your life is beneficial no matter your age. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends Canadians aged 18 to 64 get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity and several hours of light physical activity every week. Canadians 65 and over should also be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity and several hours of light physical activity each week but should be focusing on physical activities that challenge balance. Whether you choose to take walks, go for a swim, or participate in a group fitness class, find an activity that supports your strengths—this will help you stay on track with your fitness goals.
2. Don’t ignore your brain
As you age, many people assume that they will start to notice their cognition diminishing in some way. But this doesn’t have to be the case. You can choose to become a lifelong learner—defined as “the ongoing pursuit of knowledge for professional or personal reasons”. When you continually challenge your brain to learn hobbies, skills, languages, or anything new and novel, you keep your brain and cognitive skills sharp. You will also be helping to reduce your risk of developing cognition-related disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Stay connected
Maintaining relationships and contributing to society are both factors that are considered when trying to age actively. There’s a reason these are mentioned—about 30% of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated. Statistics Canada reports that 19% of Canadians over age 65 feel isolated from others. Twenty-four percent said they wish they could participate in more social activities. It is important to have social networks with whom you are connected. Whether this comes from your neighbourhood, your family, or other social groups you are a part of, foster these relationships and work to maintain them throughout your life.
4. Foster your independence
There is a lot to be said about being able to do things for yourself. As you age, your ability to live independently may start to decline. But by working on their mobility and cognition, and finding creative ways to function independently, older Canadians are finding a new lease on life. A study in Waterloo, Ontario looked at the uptake of e-bikes by older adults and found that e-bikes gave these individuals the freedom and independence to be mobile on their terms. Finding a way to maintain your mobility is central to feeling independent, and maintaining your independence as you age will have a positive impact on your quality of life.
5. Take an active role in your health
Simply put, prevention is key to living a long, healthy life. And while this means ensuring you are going to your doctor regularly and attending all of the needed preventative screenings, it also means participating in programs and activities that address the four areas above. A cross-provincial study looked at the primary preventions available for Canada’s aging population. They found that these programs do increase successful aging among older adults, specifically when they have a focus on physical and mental health, and promote active engagement in life.
These strategies will help you age actively, and by taking a proactive approach you can start to pave the way for a healthy aging experience no matter your age!