The secret to healthy ageing is to be active and stay active.
Age creeps up on all of us, and while it poses some challenges, it is possible to live well even as the years catch on. In fact, the concept of active ageing is becoming more relevant today.
Singapore, like many developed countries, is facing a rapidly ageing population. By 2030, one in five people will be 65 and older. Ensuring that this greying population (that will one day consist of you and I) live healthy, productive, enabled and dignified lives is a challenge that involves individual effort, political will as well as community participation.
We’ll all get older, but as the American comedian George Burns once said, “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.”
One of the ways to live a healthy, active and fulfilling life in your senior years is to embrace the concept of active ageing. Active ageing is a holistic approach that helps a person to optimise their physical, mental and social health, be actively engaged in society and have the financial security to lead a good quality of life.
This concept starts not just when you ‘become old’ – but is a mindset that applies to anyone at any stage of life. From a healthcare perspective active, ageing helps to promote healthy living, and hence extend life expectancy and quality of life for all people (including those who are frail, disabled and in need of care) as they age.
Ageing with 'success' thus refers not only to the absence or avoidance of disease and risk factors for a disease but also to the maintenance of physical and mental functioning, good emotional health and active engagement with life.
According to studies on successful ageing, genetics impacts only one-third of how well we age; two-thirds is based on what we can control: our personal lifestyle choices. In fact, attitude and lifestyle are the key factors for not only longevity but also the quality of life.
Research indicates that we can indeed help ourselves live longer, happier lives by maintaining good emotional health, engaging in a little mental stimulation, being active and participating in the world around us.
Happiness is a boost to the immune system and alleviates stress, and reduces stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia and depression. Research shows that being involved with activities, people, and experiences that bring you joy, boosts optimism and a positive attitude, which in turn are linked to longevity.
Your brain likes new things, and exercising your mental capacity is one way to extend your brain’s fitness. Though the brain shrinks with age, learning new things and challenging the brain with games and new skills can build new neural connections. In fact, a regular ‘diet’ of new mental experiences – doing puzzles, learning a new language, or picking up an instrument – can develop creativity, open-mindedness and inquisitiveness, all traits linked to healthier ageing.
A positive attitude towards oneself and developing healthy self-esteem is important in ensuring you make positive life choices. Taking good care of yourself, accepting the way you are and being confident about your own attributes leads to making better lifestyle choices and taking better care of yourself.
A growing body of research shows that people who participate in society live longer and have a lower risk of developing dementia and senility. People who have active social lives also tend to have overall better mental and physical wellbeing.
The science is clear: activity is the linchpin to good health. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, diabetes, depression, and osteoarthritis. Active people are less likely to be obese, a condition that is a risk factor for many diseases. Exercise need not even be running or intense sport, but simply moving about – taking walks, climbing stairs, carrying groceries in a basket instead of using a trolley.
Other factors for healthy longevity include the larger societal and socio-economic landscape. According to Dr Hii, these include culture and gender; behaviour, biology and genetics; economics; one’s social circle; existing health and social service systems and the environment.
Culture influences many decisions. One of these is the expectation that the female in the family should be a caregiver to an ailing spouse or elderly parent. Caregiving responsibilities, in turn, affect a woman’s financial independence and in the longer term, is linked to increased poverty and ill health in old age.
Lifestyle habits from a young age have been shown to impact the longevity and one’s quality of life. So, while a large part of ageing is genetically determined and cannot be changed, your state of health is also the result of genetics, environment, lifestyle and nutrition. This means the right lifestyle, behaviour and mindset can delay or prevent the onset of certain diseases.
Income, opportunities for work and social protection impact financial wellness in old age. Any form of work (formal, informal or voluntary) can increase social contact and psychological well-being and gives older people a sense of purpose and builds financial security.
Social support and participation in one’s community is an important aspect of ageing well. Encouraging intergenerational interaction also develops social wellness and allows younger people to have more positive and realistic attitudes towards the older generation.
In order to promote active ageing, health systems need to focus on health promotion, disease prevention and maintaining access to quality primary healthcare and long-term care facilities.
An age-friendly and accessible environment is important to support the changing physical needs of the elderly so that they can remain independent and active. Wide steps with gentle gradients, handrails, wheelchair-accessible paths and doorways, accessible lifts and affordable public transportation services enable people of all ages and circumstances to participate in family or community life.
Ultimately, it takes a proactive and holistic approach to achieve active and healthy ageing. Education and awareness of age-related conditions are also important ways to empower yourself and make better lifestyle decisions.
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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