Aging and Wellness
By: Farida Abjani
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aging as “the length of an existence extending from the beginning to any given time.” In other words, aging is the process of growing old. The process begins the day we’re born, but it’s society that ultimately decides when we become “old.” Some of us believe it’s the day we notice our first wrinkles reflected in the mirror. According to the government, it becomes official when we turn 65.
Aging doesn’t mean our condition must deteriorate. Instead, we can strive for healthy aging, defined by the World Health Organization as “the development and maintenance of optimal mental, social, and physical well-being and function in older adults. This is most likely to be achieved when communities are safe, promote health and well-being, and use health services and community programs to prevent or minimize disease.” Let’s discuss this definition one point at a time.
Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual can realize his or her own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and contribute to their community. Our feelings help us define our world. Mental health allows us to create the balance through which we cope with challenges and develop respectful and trustworthy relationships. As we grow old, we must engage in certain activities that facilitate longer life. Participating in intellectually stimulating activities keeps our minds alert and focused. Some of the activities we can engage in include working on puzzles, painting, joining a cooking class, or drawing a map from memory.
Social well-being is the extent to which we feel a sense of belonging and social inclusion. A connected person is one who is supported in society. Lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions, and beliefs are all important to our social well-being and quality of life.
Stronger social ties boost longevity and have proven to lower blood pressure. Engaging in any kind of social interaction, including talking to someone, improves memory. Cognitive functioning improves tremendously when people have multiple social ties. Not having any social connection is a risk factor that affects health as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Most studies agree: Be in touch with six people per week. Other ways to remain social include joining a club, traveling, and visiting friends and family.
Physical well-being isn’t just the absence of disease. Attaining it means making lifestyle behavior choices that ensure health, avoid preventable diseases and conditions, and facilitate a balanced state of body, mind, and spirit. These choices include physical activity, meditation, ample sleep, stress management, limited alcohol intake, and the avoidance of cigarettes and drugs, as well as healthy eating. Various studies have shown that improved physical health enhances mental and emotional well-being. Endorphins are released when we exercise, so exercise not only helps build muscle and burn fat, it also energizes and uplifts us.
One of the most popular and comprehensive systems for achieving well-being on all levels is yoga. Developed 5000 years ago in India, yoga is a system of postures and breathing techniques. Several different types of yoga are practiced by millions of people to attain a better quality of life by improving fitness, stress levels, wellness, vitality, mental clarity, peace of mind, and spiritual growth. I, too, believe in yoga. It helps me reduce stress, maintain my balance, and strengthen my muscles.
By practicing good mental, social, and physical health, it is possible for all of us to achieve healthy aging. By doing so, we will live longer more fulfilled and happier lives without the restrictions of age that are dictated by society.