What does it mean to be healthy as we get older? For most of us, it’s simply the opposite of illness. And staying healthy equates to managing diseases and chronic conditions.
But there is a movement to expand the definition of health and wellness in order to accommodate the idea that being healthy is the process of getting the most out of what life has to offer — regardless of physical age.
It’s called active aging, a philosophy that attempts to move the mindset of what is considered health and well-being into an entire spectrum of categories that encompass components such as emotional and spiritual wellness, as well as the traditional physical aspects of health.
The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) defines active aging as promoting the vision of all individuals — regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health — fully engaging in life within seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual/cognitive, physical, professional/vocational, social and spiritual.
By expanding what we consider to be “healthy” and incorporating each dimension into our lives, we can cultivate a more well-rounded view of what constitutes a healthy and happy life.
Let’s take a closer look at each active aging dimension of wellness and how each might point to steps we can take to improve our own quality of life and that of those around us.
Mental and emotional health is one of the pillars of happiness. Focusing on life’s positives (even embracing nostalgia), spending quality time with friends and family, and taking time for self-expression are ways to strengthen this dimension. Try eating meals with companions to give yourself the opportunity to talk about your day, tell stories and, of course, laugh.
Your environment isn’t just the four walls around you, but the world that you and your loved ones inhabit. Allow sufficient time to wander in nature, explore its beauty and taste everything life has to offer.
A sharp mind is a happy mind. Engaging in creative pursuits is a proven method for keeping the mind alert. Read, write, journal, solve crosswords and puzzles, or even pick up a new pursuit like drawing or painting.
Physical well-being is about taking care of your body and making positive lifestyle choices. That means physical activity and exercise, as well as smart and healthy eating habits. Choose nutritious, delicious foods (MemoryMeals® makes that an easy call), make sure you get adequate sleep, and eliminate unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Participating in work (paid or unpaid) not only contributes a service to society, but can boost one’s sense of self-worth by helping others and increasing social interaction. Older adults and seniors still have a lot to contribute as mentors, teachers and volunteers.
Sometimes we all get tired of the rest of the world. But social isolation is ultimately unhealthy. So carve out sufficient time with friends and family for valuable emotional support. Social well-being can also be found through joining clubs and partaking in group activities.
There is evidence that religious belief is associated with longer life and better physical and mental health. This could be due to higher rates of social and emotional engagement among people of faith, but the fact remains that a spiritual component — the search for purpose and meaning — is an important dimension of active aging. That can take the form of organized religion or less dogmatic spiritual pursuits, such as yoga, meditation or simply communing with nature.
Putting It All Together
By broadening the definition of health and wellness, the active aging concept presents interesting new paths in the ways we will build full lives for a growing population of older Americans. Since food can be an important component in a number of the lifestyle areas identified in active aging, MemoryMeals® promises to play a major part in helping to enhance the lives of seniors at meal time and beyond.