About 10,000 people daily reach age 65, life’s last developmental phase. Statistics show that we are living longer than ever before. However, elderly persons live with undesirable challenges and consequences such as loneliness, social isolation, hearing decline, physical decline, mental issues, decreased self-care and poor diet to name a few.
– Tip No. 1: As we age, our social interactions and opportunity for interaction diminishes. Data from the National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine shows that one-third of all adults over 45 are lonely and one-fourth of adults over 65 are lonely. Elderly persons are more likely to be living alone due to the death of a spouse, friends and some family members, and children move away. Data indicates that it increases the risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and suicide. As the Dalai Lama said, “Humans are, by nature, social beings and most of our happiness comes from our relationships with others.” Social interactions improve our health and happiness, as well as our ability to live longer. You can decrease loneliness and social isolation by participating in activities, like joining a book club, painting group, shell crafting groups, et cetera. There is a Friendship Telephone Line at the Institute of Aging at 415-750-4111 that is available 24 hours a day. Join social media like Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. The AARP offers a Community Connections Program that you can join at aarpcommunityconnections.org.
– Tip No. 2: Retirement significantly decreases interactions with others. Keep on working as long as physically and mentally able. Col. Harland David Sanders, 90, never thought about retiring. He said that God placed Adam on Earth and did not tell him to retire at age 65. Another prominent person, Dr. Denton Cooley, who has performed over 100,000 heart transplants, worked until age 82. Dr. Michael DeBakey, another former cardiovascular surgeon, was still practicing at age 98.
– Tip No. 3: Exercise is an important factor in coping with aging. Exercising is essential for a healthy body and also for a healthy brain. It is the most powerful tool to optimize brain function. The brain has 100 billion cells. No matter how old you are, avoid inactivity as the body and mind starts to degenerate with inactivity. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression. It improves alertness, attention, motivation and mood. It reduces the risk of many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, some types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I go to the gym three times each week for 45 minutes of machine exercises. If you do not have a gym close to you or do not want to go to a gym, walking for 30 minutes each day is a reasonable substitute. Start walking for 20 minutes, at your own pace, and gradually increase to 30 minutes. Similarly, increase your pace gradually.
– Tip No. 4: Mediate. I perform mindfulness meditation, which is the only one I am suggesting. The Dalai Lama says that meditation is beneficial to brain function and enhances quality of life. It reduces stress. Many libraries have DVDs and CDs for learning mindfulness meditation. One resource that can be printed out is “Mindfulness in 7 steps: An Easy Guide to Practice Mindfulness.” DVDs and CDs are also available for purchase online.
– Tip No. 5: Assume more responsibility for your health. Overweight or obese people have a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline. Lower your weight by gradually reducing the amount of food you eat. Adding more vegetables into your diet reduces your chances of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, et cetera. My snacks are cored baby carrots instead of sweet snacks, which promote obesity.
– Tip No. 6: Create a need for yourself to make a difference in another person’s life, such as grocery shopping for the homebound or taking them to doctor’s visits — 4 million to 6 million people are homebound — helping grandchildren with advanced learning, and volunteering at homeless shelters.
Seniors can make the last years of living enjoyable by creating a purposeful life. Exercising, meditation and creative activities, such as learning to play an instrument or bridge. Brain training exercises like word puzzles, enhancing social interactions, traveling, volunteering — try the AARP at aarp.org/virtualvolunteering — assuming more responsibility for your health and creating a need for yourself to make a difference in people’s lives are useful ways for people to age well and healthy.
Sanibel resident Shakil Mohammed, M.D., PhD., is a former faculty member of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s Departments of Psychiatry, Internal Medicine and Pharmacology and former medical director of the Center for Anxiety and Depression at The Jewish Hospital in Ohio.