Predictors of Healthy Aging – Adult Health and Wellness

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There seems to be a formula for healthy aging suggested by the latest research on centenarians and research comparing people in their 20’s to 40’s to those in their 60’s to 90’s. Some of the predictors of healthy aging are: physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, spiritual and sexual. Maintaining health and well-being in any of these areas may not prolong your life, but it will certainly improve the quality and enjoyment of your daily life as you age. And you may be surprised to find that you’re living longer than you ever thought possible.

Physical predictors of healthy aging

A supplement to the November/December 2006 Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior introduced the new MyPyramid Food Guidance System, an updated replacement for the previous Food Guide Pyramid based on several years of research.

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), a healthy diet is:

o Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy 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 updated their food pyramid for older adults to be more consistent with the MyPyramid. This modified version of the MyPyramid continues to emphasize nutrient-dense food choices and the importance of staying hydrated, but has added additional guidance on food types that may best meet the unique needs of older adults. In addition, there is a greater emphasis on the importance of regular physical activity.

The modified MyPyramid for older adults was published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. A baseline has been added to the new pyramid that maps physical activities characteristic of older adults, such as walking, gardening, and swimming.

Government statistics show that obesity has increased among adults aged 70 and over. 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 rate tends to slow down. Even if they continue to play sports, they are often not as physically active as they were when they were young. But their bodies still require the same or greater amounts of nutrients to maintain optimal health. Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, lower body weight, and improved quality of life for older adults.

Tufts University recommendations for older adults include the following:

o Whole, fortified, and fortified grains and cereals such as 100% wheat brown rice and bread
o Colorful vegetables like carrots and broccoli
o Deep-colored fruits such as berries and melons
o Low-fat and fat-free 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 fats
o Fluid intake
o Physical activity such as walking, housework and gardening.

Intellectual predictors of healthy aging

Before and especially after retirement, healthy aging requires that we keep our minds active, regularly learn and engage in new activities, maintain an interest and passion for reading and current events, and reflect often on the finer 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, maintain a good sense of humor and a positive attitude regardless of how circumstances in their life unfold, and continue to develop many opportunities for rest and relaxation.

Relational predictors of healthy aging

Those who remain healthy in old age usually feel supported by a large social network of family and friends. They tend to help others frequently, have many younger friends, remain in successful marriages or live fulfilling single lives, attend social events, and share happy events with others.

Spiritual predictors of healthy aging

Spiritually connected people tend to do better as they get older. Spiritual commitments and practices, such as daily prayer, meditation, or regular church attendance, help them maintain a strong sense of personal purpose and meaning in life, as well as appreciate the beauty and power of nature and its natural rhythms and cycles.

Sexual predictors of healthy aging

Those who age successfully continue to enjoy and have a passion for life. They tend to continue to seek sensual and sexual pleasure in their own bodies, 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 belief in a higher power
o A healthy lifestyle including exercise, diet, rest, sleep and play
o An active imagination, intellectual stimulation and a passion for learning
o Emotional well-being, an optimistic attitude and a good sense of humor
o Passion for life, sensual and sexual liveliness and appreciation of nature

Thanks to Erica Goodstone, Ph.D.

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