The Age Factor

With a presidential election looming, “age” is in the news, especially with two presidential candidates either hovering just past or below 80. While we’re not here to predict the outcome of the 2024 presidential race, we can point out that the process of aging vastly differs from one individual to another. Some people remain vigorous and sharp well into their 90s; others seem old in their sixties.

Actor (and heart throb) Tom Cruise has passed his 61st birthday, yet he’s busy at work filming Mission Impossible 8, the next in an adventure series that demands of its actors physical strength and agility. Madonna who turned 65 a few months ago, began a rigorous international tour that concludes in April. Vernon Smith, a 97-year old economist at Chapman University puts in an eight-hour day, seven days a week, and just published a book about Adam Smith. He was profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

How old is old?

According to the Social Security Administration, the expected life span of a modern American 50-year-old is 80.4 years. For 75-year-olds, it’s 86.4. At the end of 2023, Pew Research reported that 17 percent of Americans were 65 or older, a total of about 55 million people, with roughly 11 million or 19% in the employed workforce. This was attributed, in part, to the fact that older adults are healthier and less likely to have a disability than in the past and that retirement plans have changed.

The fact is the ability to reason and deal with complex, abstract information and to learn new skills does decline with age, yet the knowledge we’ve acquired over time –  the “crystalized Intelligence” that comes from education, experience, and human interaction – actually becomes stronger.

“Because of the industry we’re in, we see firsthand how people age,” notes John Mastronardi, Executive Director of the Nathaniel Witherell. “Some people remain physically active but may suffer from memory problems; others may be mentally crisp but hampered by physical disabilities. While aging is inevitable, how one deals with it seems to me to be key.”

Given our druthers, we’d all want to be lucky enough to grow old, and in the process, age well. But that, scientists point out, is going to depend on a combination of factors: genetics; maintaining a healthy lifestyle, robust social life, adequate sleep, lifelong learning, and minimal exposure to harmful environmental factors. They all help to ward off dementia and disease.

“With longer life spans, the more physically and mentally active you are, the better your chances of reaching and enjoying the Golden Years,” says Mastronardi. Indeed, Smith, who remains mentally sharp, has never smoked, maintains a healthy diet, and is physically active and socially engaged.

What about you? What can you do to age well? Here are our six tips

 

  1. Follow the Mediterranean diet which is rich in leafy greens, berries, nuts, fish, and olive oil, and even allows for a little wine now and then. At the same time, be sure to limit your intake of red meat, sugar, and fried foods.
  2. Rest up: try to sleep at least six or seven hours every night.
  3. Maintain your social connections: schedule lunches and dinners with friends, stay in touch with family, get active in your community.
  4. Keep learning: take a course, start a new hobby, learn a new skill, join a book club, try a new experience. Challenge yourself! Read here how former dancer Maher Benham became a nurse at 73, as described in Prevention She said: “My advantage of starting my nursing career at 73 years old is that I reached a level of success in my first career, which gave me a sense of self confidence, a sense of enthusiasm, a sense of ‘Yes I can.’”
  5. Keep moving: embrace healthy habits that include weight control, annual physical exams, engaging in sports (even a brisk walk several times a week counts), taking the stairs.
  6. Pay attention to your mental health: instead of dwelling on past missed opportunities, focus on the present and future. The mind can influence the body.

In sum, take all our good advice and remember this: if you feel young and act young, you will be young!

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