The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2021–2030 the Decade of Healthy Ageing. According to a WHO report, by 2030, 1 in 6 people will be 60 years or over. The share of the population aged 60 years and over will increase from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion.
The above facts made me contemplate more on the concept of aging successfully. According to the classic idea of Rowe and Kahn, successful aging is defined as high physical, psychological, and social functioning in old age without significant diseases. However, this made me wonder, who decides the standards for gauging these parameters?
Success and failures are realities of this dualistic world we live in. So how do you figure out successful aging? And how would you answer the bigger question, “how to achieve successful aging”?
Before digging deep into these pivotal questions, let’s examine the biological causes of aging?
There are two major categories of theories of aging, as propounded by modern biologists- programmed and damage or error theories. The former implies that aging follows a biological timetable, perhaps a continuation of the one that regulates childhood growth and development. It would depend on changes in gene expression that affect the essential systems responsible for maintenance, repair, and defense responses. The damage or error theories emphasize environmental assaults on living organisms that induce cumulative damage at various levels as the cause of aging. Despite advances in molecular biology & genetics and the untiring efforts of great philosophers, the mysteries that control human lifespan are yet to be unraveled.
Before reading any further, I’d like you to stop and think, “what does successful aging mean to you?” “Have you ever contemplated deeply on what privileges would you lose once you are old”? And “What would be the brighter side of aging”?
Take a while…..
I am sure that if you did the exercise mentioned above, you’re uneasy with the idea of aging (if you’re in your youthful years). Or perhaps, if you’re already in your 60s or 70s, you’d be feeling anxious.
However, there’s nothing to be sad or anxious about. On the contrary, the more we fret about something, the more we are disturbed by that entity. So let’s explore the time & tested ways of aging successfully.
Know your “ikigai.”
One of the key factors linked to increased longevity and well-being of Japanese people is the Japanese concept of Ikigai. New studies have shown that this Japanese concept is one of the core reasons for longevity and happy life. Ikigai means Life + Value, or something that makes your life worth living. It can be referred to as having a sense of purpose or a way of serving others with what you love. Although, this concept is broader than what I’ve explained in the above few lines. It may broadly vary from person to person. For example, a teacher might love & enjoy teaching and guiding their students. That is their ikigai.
What is your ikigai?
Think about it…
Focus on healthy, plant-based meals
I know this is the most cliched one! But I cannot overemphasize that Plant foods are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, including polyphenols, carotenoids, folate, and vitamin C. In fact, after reviewing clinical trials and epidemiological studies on aging, researchers found that people who ate plant-based foods were up to 50% less likely to develop chronic diseases that are more likely to present themselves during the aging process, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
It would be appropriate to say, “You are what you eat.”
Change is the only constant in life- Acknowledge it.
The famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus focuses on the nature of life as constantly changing. The Buddha also emphasized the impermanence of everything around us. The first step toward successful aging is acknowledging this truth and being “ok” with “not being ok.”
Hydrate yourself- key for successful aging
According to the Journal of Biochemistry, the brain & heart are composed of 73% water, & the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscle & kidneys are 79% water, & even bones are watery: 31%.
Time & again, different studies have shown the essential role water plays in the proper functioning of our bodies. So, next time stop and think whenever you’re about to drink soda-based or any carbonated drink.
According to a study(PMC journal), physical activity and exercise are well-established countermeasures against muscle aging and have been shown to attenuate age-related decreases in muscle mass, strength, and regenerative capacity, and slow or prevent impairments in muscle metabolism. You don’t have to perform heavy workout sessions, but make a habit of doing moderate physical activities to elevate your heart rate. It can be taking your dog out for a run, jogging, playing your favorite outdoor sport, or even taking long walks with your beloved. Also, exercise increases serotonin & dopamine levels, making you feel happier and joyous.
Meditate regularly to delay aging
Taking care of your mental health is inevitable if you want to live a happy and long life. It starts with knowing yourself, not just your thoughts, but your spirit. Next, try to develop a habit of sitting in silence every day for a few minutes. Gradually, you’ll notice the potential of this simple habit over the years or even days.
Studies have proven that the relaxation response from meditation helps decrease metabolism, lower BP, and improve heart rate & breathing. In addition, brain scans called MRI have shown an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate in people meditating. Other studies on Buddhist monks have endorsed that meditation produces long-lasting brain activity changes in areas involving attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception.
Last but not least, you be your judge to decide what successful aging means to you. Be grateful for what you already have, rather than complaining and trying to control the flow of your life.