COLLEGE STATION–What does a person’s ‘age’ really mean? Yes, it does count the number of years lived, but as Americans continue to live longer, we need to watch how well we are living and how successfully we are aging, according to Andy Crocker, gerontology health specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension.
Since May is “Older Americans Month” and “Older Texans Month,” Texas Extension has some tips on successful aging to increase the quality of life along with our quantity of years.
Remain as physically healthy as possible for as long as possible is step one. Mary Herridge, a gerontologist and Hill County Extension agent, said poor health is not a consequence of aging and being healthy is not just the absence of disease.
“A chronic illness may be considered unhealthy but, if managed properly, the person suffering from that illness may be able to lead a normal, healthy life,” Herridge said.
A healthy lifestyle will have a positive impact on a person at any age. Proper diet, exercise and preventive healthcare are three primary means to maintaining your physical health. Anyone interested in diet, exercise and prevention may contact their Extension agent for information on programs and services that are available.
Successful aging is also tied very heavily to a person’s mental health. Just as with physical health, decline in mental health is not a consequence of growing older.
“Many clinicians and family members attribute an altered mental state to someone’s age rather than recognizing symptoms of a disease and seeking treatment for it,” Crocker said. Something as simple as the wrong prescription in a pair of glasses may cause disorientation and then may be confused with dementia.
Crocker recommends keeping the mind active through stimulating activity such as reading or word games or even talking with friends and neighbors about a current news event.
As an added tip, Dr. Judy Warren, Extension gerontology specialist, suggests getting adequate rest in addition to any physical and mental activities.
“Plenty of sleep nurtures the body and the mind,” Warren said.
Emotional and spiritual well-being are key to any discussion regarding healthy aging. Social interaction is an important part of emotional health.
Warren reminds us “to age well, we need to give and receive love.”
Whether it’s through volunteering or a group of friends who meet on a regular basis, staying involved in society gives a sense of purpose: a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to stay both mentally and physically healthy.
“I don’t think we realize that mental, physical, and emotional health are all intertwined,” said Herridge. “It’s like a stool with three legs — if you take one leg away, the stool won’t stand up.”
An excellent way to stay mentally healthy as well as strengthen emotional health is to participate in educational opportunities your community.
“Most colleges and universities, and some school districts, offer a variety of classes that may be of interest to people of any age. The best part is that most classes are very affordable and offer flexible schedules,” Crocker said.
Americans are still searching for the fabled “Fountain of Youth” and until someone finds it, we must try to do what we can to age well. Physical, mental, and emotional health are all interrelated and must be considered when discussing successful aging.
Texas Cooperative Extension has many resources available to help you in your pursuit of a long, healthy life. For more information regarding successful aging, visit the National Institute on Aging “Age Page” at http://www.nia.nih.gov/data/publist.asp