It was once thought that disease and disability were a natural part of aging. It's true that getting older raises our risk of health problems. But many people stay active and engaged in the world well into their senior years.
People in all measured categories are living longer. Today's life expectancy at birth is a record high of 78.7 years. This is up from age 78.0 in 2008. Life expectancy was 75.4 in 1990 and 70.8 in 1970.
How long you're expected to live depends on gender, race and origin. People of Hispanic origin tend to have a longer life expectancy than other ethnic groups. And women are expected to live about five years longer than men do, on average.
Keep in mind that every person ages differently. Genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle choices can all affect how a person ages.
Some research has found that a person's view of aging was associated with how well they would recover from a serious disability. Researchers at Yale University studied two groups. One had positive views about aging. The other had negative views. The group with more upbeat views of aging was 44 percent more likely to recover from a severe disability. Recovery was based on the person's ability to bathe themselves, get dressed, walk and move from a chair.
The Yale scientists said one reason for the difference might be that those with a more positive outlook took part in healthier activities.
Other ways to age successfully
- Get regular exercise. Older adults who exercise regularly report fewer problems with overall health and mobility. They also report lower health care costs than seniors who aren't physically active. Water activities like swimming can be great options for older adults. Water exercise has been shown to help with disabilities and improve quality of life. It can maintain or improve older women's bone health. And it can be beneficial for people with arthritis and chronic illnesses. Walking is another great way to get moving.
- Eat healthy foods. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meats are healthy foods. Limit foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
- Stay connected with others. People who stay active with their family and community show symptoms of Alzheimer's disease later than those who have less outside contact.
- Find a purpose. Taking part in productive activities also helps keep you healthy. Studies show that volunteering can help a person feel happier and more confident about life. It is especially helpful in older adults. Perhaps transportation or mobility are issues. Don't let those issues be roadblocks. Consider volunteer work that you could do by phone or computer in your home.
- Get help. Depression is common among people including older adults. Don't ignore the signs. A loss of interest in favorite activities, feelings of worthlessness and lack of energy are all signs to get help. Be sure you have a strong support system for times you're feeling down.
Take care of yourself. Focus on the good in life. It could help you feeling healthy and happy in the years to come.
Note: If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
Created on 08/25/2005
Updated on 09/12/2013
- National Institute on Aging. Can we prevent aging?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Faststats. Life expectancy.
- UpToDate. Normal aging.