This may be news to a few people, but not to our older readers: Aging does not start at age 50 (or 60, or 65, or whatever age benefit eligibility kicks in). We age every day of our life. Circumstances and choices we make along our lifespan greatly influence the quality of our later lives.
Most people believe that longevity is a good thing—especially if it coincides with good health and adequate savings and resources. Several things can provide you with resources in later life—family, friends, and local programs and services—but only one thing provides you with true choice: savings. That’s a topic for a later article. There are two things that can help you live better and longer: physical activity and social connection.
Among many studies, the National Institute of Health has found that leisure-time physical activity extends life expectancy as much as 4.5 years (source). Another study, this one of elderly men who exercise determined that, on average, they live five years longer than men who do not exercise (source). Significantly, those who exercise and live longer also feel better.
Social connections also contribute to longevity. Harvard professor Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist previously at Yale, found that people who were not connected to others were three times as likely to die over the course of nine years as those who had strong social ties (source).
The Grant Study, a 75-year longitudinal study of 268 healthy Harvard sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944, contributes to what we know about relationships. Principal investigator George Vaillant reports that loving relationships early in life matter, but so do the relationships that feed our happiness later in life.
- The most important contributor to joy and success in adult life is love, and the second greatest contributor is the individual’s involuntary coping styles.
- What goes right in childhood predicts the future far better than what goes wrong. A warm childhood predicts joy and success in adult life. Memories of a happy childhood become a lifelong source of strength.
- People who do well in old age do not necessarily do well in midlife, and vice versa.
- The capacity for intimate relationships predicts flourishing in all aspects of men’s lives.
- Marriages become happier after age 70.
- Alcoholism was the most important factor in divorces.
- As men approach old age, the quality of boyhood relationships with their mothers was associated with their effectiveness at work, their continuing to work until age 70, and their late-life income.
- Men’s warm relationships with their fathers (but not with mothers) seem to enhance their capacity to play. Good father-son relationships predicted subjective life satisfaction at age 75.
- After age 40, IQ does not count for much.
- Men who live to be 100 years old are usually pretty active at age 95.
- Our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often they become more fulfilling than before.
Aging is not just for old people. Aging is success. Plan to age well. Keep moving and stay connected!
Contributor Molly Holmes is the chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. Molly welcomes input from readers via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
Molly Holmes’ photo by Lorraine Sanford.
The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services meets monthly, except January and October.