Did you know that older people are happier and healthier than ever before—certainly much happier than when we were middle-aged. Many of us see ourselves as independent, vital, and active. That’s a great self-image and one it pays to maintain. Even more important, having a positive attitude can result in a stronger likelihood of living to age eighty-five or older.
What are we doing to produce more happiness and healthier bodies than when we were younger? It has to do with something called the mind-body connection, which simply means that your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect your biological functioning. In other words, your mind can influence how healthy your body is. That simple statement can change your life.
Of all the things you have to do to live your 70s, 80s, and beyond with grace, the hardest one may be simply accepting the changes that are happening instead of trying to resist them. Once you accept that you are in a perfectly natural stage of life, the next step is to ask yourself what you need to be happy. When I look at my own life, I know I need people.
Human beings are social animals. Try to spend time with at least one person every day. The time doesn’t have to be long and involved. It can be as simple as taking a walk, running into each other at the grocery store or the gym, or something more structured, such as taking a class together. If you are feeling lonely or blue, that’s all the more reason to seek someone to talk to. It doesn’t have to be your best friend or a long conversation. A chat with the librarian at your local library or one of your neighbors walking her dog might suffice.
Without a doubt, the one non-negotiable item on your to-do list should be physical exercise. Humans were meant to move, no matter our age. As a matter of fact, the older we are, the more important it is to keep moving. If we don’t maintain our flexibility and balance, strengthen our muscles, and increase our endurance, we are putting ourselves at risk.
It’s hardly a news flash that regular aerobic exercise keeps our hearts and lungs healthy, our bones strong, and our minds sharp. But did you know that one of the greatest benefits of exercise is its effect on our brains. It reduces the brain fog that comes with age, protects memory and thinking skills, improves mood and sleep, reduces stress, and as an added bonus, increases our self-confidence.
If you are mobile and perhaps still driving, explore places in your city you have never been to, such as a museum, an art gallery, concerts in the park, or historic homes you always meant to visit. Ask a friend with similar interests to join you, and make it a mini-adventure.
Have you abandoned activities and hobbies you used to enjoy, such a as riding a bike, golfing, playing the piano, baking, painting, or writing in a journal? Why not try a few of them again? In 1990, Italian-born psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, introduced the concept of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which beautifully describes the state of mind in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. They become so focused on what they’re doing, they lose track of time. It’s hard to find the right words to describe how you feel when you’re in flow—trancelike, hypnotic, in the zone. One thing is for sure: you don’t feel old.
And, finally, you could become one of the 35 million Americans who do some form of meditation. Few things I can think of will release the power of your attitude as profoundly as meditation.
I want to leave you with one last thought that it is perhaps the most important of all of the activities I have suggested. You have accomplished many things in your life up till now. Perhaps you have raised a family or built a successful career. Maybe you have created art or written books, volunteered at a hospital, been a docent at a museum, taught school, been active in your church or synagogue, worked in the food pantry, or contributed to your community in a hundred other ways. All these things have had an impact on many people.
At times, when you are doubting your value, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of what you have done in your life. Sometimes, that is difficult to do when your achievements are intangible. But try to remember the many ways you have brightened someone’s day or helped another person in some way you may not have even realized. These moments are all evidence of a life well lived. Focusing on them instead of problems is like drinking from the fountain of youth.