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Making 2017 the Year of Healthy Aging
Posted in: Aging Well
Colin Milner, Founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), is working to change the way we view aging and to empower older adults to age well.
Recently, he spoke with Asbury to share three key New Year’s resolutions for seniors.
Find and embrace your potential
We are at a very exciting time in society. We have more information than ever in front of us for how to age well. Traditionally, the language has been about disability and diminishment; retirement was a wrap-up party.
But science is showing us that older people have an awful lot of unrealized abilities physically and immense potential in many other areas.
Many of us have delayed exploring those opportunities due to raising children and putting food on the table. Embracing them could be transformative.
Identifying your delayed dream, or potential, takes reflection. First, consider your purpose in life, what brings meaning to it. Then think about how fulfilling your potential could help you fulfill your purpose. Finally, map out what you actually need to do to fulfill your potential, so that you can fulfill your purpose.
All of us have unrealized potential. Having a meaningful, happy retirement means identifying it and figuring out how to achieve it in a realistic way.
Maybe you always wanted to travel, but now that you’re retired, you’re not in the best shape. You may not be able to hike the Great Wall of China but with some time at the gym, you could make the trip and walk a few miles of it.
Maybe you always wanted to be an artist. You may not become Van Gogh, but you can certainly sign up for classes and see where that takes you. (See Inverness Village resident and sculptor David Nunneley.)
To embrace your potential you may need to shift your thinking to what is known versus what is thought. And by that I mean what we know about aging from a scientific standpoint as opposed to what we think we know.
We talk about creating an environment for aging well, but the first environment we often need to change is our own mind. You’re never going to accomplish your potential if you think you don’t have it.
Negative thinking can take 7.5 years off your life, according to a 2012 study on how senior’s beliefs about aging affect them.
Active aging comes back to three words: engaged in life. Social engagement would be right at the top of most important factors for active, successful aging.
The World Health Organization’s definition of active healthy aging is less about the absence of disease and more about functioning, which includes physical, cognitive and social. We can have health issues in our lives and still remain very engaged.
Focus on the impact of your goals
It is very easy to set new goals with false expectations. We all want to get back to the levels of functioning we had when we were 30 or 40 or we find the one 80-year-old marathon runner and decide to be like him.
Remember that you are an individual and your goals need to work for you. There are 18 different physiological factors that affect how we age. You can’t compare yourself to others.
People talk about goals, but it’s more motivating to think about the positive impact that achieving your goals will have on your life. If you want to lose 30 pounds, why do you want to do it? Will it allow you to travel, make it easier and more fun to be with friends and family?
If your goal is to find a fulfilling place to volunteer, what will that bring you? New friendships? More energy and motivation to be active?
Focus on impacting your quality of life now and don’t talk about the future. Tell yourself that by doing this, you are going to leave this room feeling more energetic, feeling you have contributed, whatever it may be.
Even if you haven’t yet reached your goal, the fact that you’re working on it feels good and changes you physiologically and mentally.
Embracing your potential today could change the course of your life.
Editor's Note: Colin Milner and sister Jenifer recently published a call for policies that promote physical activity in seniors in the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics. On January 5, Colin will appear at Inverness Village, an Asbury retirement community located in Tulsa, Okla., which won an ICAA Innovator of the Year Award in 2015.