The challenges of growing old in the 21st Century

During the next couple of months, I want to devote this column to talking about the importance of healthy living and successful aging.

And, as we do that, I want to talk about staying connected and productive, exercising, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as common sense ideas and practices.

The United States is experiencing a remarkable increase in the number of people who live to an old age. Our older population (people 65 years or older) numbered nearly 43 million in 2012.

These folks represent one in every eight Americans, or 13.7 percent of the population. By 2030, it is projected that the U.S will be home to more than 72 million people age 65 and older.

This astonishing increase is largely a result of medical and health care advancements that simply allow people to livae longer.

Currently, the average life expectancy of an American is about 80 years old (nearly double that of our ancestors.)

Living a long life is a goal most of us have in common. Ensuring that we spend the latter years of our life feeling healthy and happy should be an important part of that goal.

But not only does good health contribute to a happy life, it also helps to keep us “solvent,” especially as we age.

Embracing a healthy lifestyle and making health our number one priority will bring invaluable benefits to us as we age.

Although growing older is inevitable, there are many things we can do to avoid feeling older. Medical breakthroughs have and will extend our longevity, but how we decide to live our senior years will be crucial.

One of the most important things you can do to stay healthy and happy as you age is to maintain your sense of purpose by staying productive and connected to people and things that are important to you.

Spend quality time with at least one person (a family member, friend or neighbor) every day. Seek out those who uplift and challenge you. Avoid secluding yourself.

You can also fill your days rendering service to others who are not as fortunate as you.

Giving time for a cause beyond yourself brings with it a sense of purpose you can’t achieve anywhere else. Your wealth of wisdom and experience will continue to grow as you reach out to others.

Activities that can help you remain connected and productive include: gardening, cooking, knitting, volunteering at a library or hospital, helping neighbors, visiting museums, traveling, playing cards or games, joining a senior center, starting a book club, taking a class, attending church, or learning and using a social media like Facebook.

Finally, challenge yourself mentally. Reading books or newspapers, doing crossword puzzles, drawing or painting, writing, studying, or learning to play a musical instrument are effective and fun ways to keep your mind sharp.

Next month I will write about exercising and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Carl R. Johnson is a Kitsap County mental health professional and writes a monthly column on issues that matter to seniors.




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