I find it somewhat ironic that I discovered this week, October 5-11, is Active Aging Week and it is also the week I turn 60, a decade after receiving my first AARP card. I don’t know if this is normal… I don’t talk about it with a lot of people, but while I realize I’m 60 years old, I’m not at all sure how that happened! I have three girlfriends I’ve stayed in contact with over the years from high school. Whenever we get together, it’s as if we’re right back in high school again and no time has elapsed; perhaps our eyesight has faded enough, we think we all still look like we did in high school.
My mother tells the story of how she once asked her father, “Dad, when did you start to feel old?” My grandfather replied, “I don’t know. I’ll tell you when it happens.” I believe he was in his sixties at the time. My mother turns 81 next month and I don’t believe she is feeling old yet!
I love this idea of active aging. None of us can turn back or stop the clock. Time marches on whether we want to acknowledge it or not, and every day brings us closer to our expiration date. We don’t know when that is, but we all know we have one. That thought could send you into a catatonic depression or it could fill you with the mandate to live each day to its fullest because you never know if it could be your last. I choose the latter—how about you?
In 2003, the International Council on Active Aging designated Active Aging Week as a week-long campaign to celebrate the positivity of aging and active living. As a woman who lost her husband to leukemia at age 37, I realize the benefits of aging. I like to remind myself that aging is a privilege denied to many. Every day I get to live is a gift, and there are things we can do to take care of that gift and create happy, active later years for our lives.
Active aging encompasses so much more than just physical exercise. The International Council on Active Aging talks about seven Dimensions of Wellness: intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, vocational, emotional and environmental.
Intellectual: What do you do daily to challenge your mind and your intellect? Do you read? Are you listening to podcasts? Do you take community classes? Have you kept up with technology? Do you have hobbies and interests? Have you challenged yourself to learn something new?
What are you doing to maintain or enhance your intellectual wellbeing?
Physical: Do you get any physical exercise? Do you walk, ride bikes, golf or play tennis? Do you swim, lift weights, do yoga or Pilates? Do you understand the importance of staying hydrated with water, not other drinks with caffeine, sugars or additives? Do you get proper nutrition?
What are you doing to maintain or enhance your physical wellbeing?
Social: How much time do you spend with people you like? Coronavirus restrictions may make this challenging, but despite that, have you found new ways to connect? Do you use Zoom, Facetime, or another video chat app? Do you reach out for others when you feel lonely or have something you want to share? Do you maintain established and make new friends easily? Do you care for a pet? Is there someone in your life to touch or hug?
What do you do to maintain or enhance your social wellbeing?
Spiritual: What are your beliefs in something larger than yourself? Do you create time to spend with your Higher Power? Do you have ways of making meaning out of some of the inexplicable things that happen in your life and our world? Do you pray or meditate regularly?
What are you doing to maintain or enhance your spiritual life?
Vocational: Are you working at a job, fulltime or part-time? Do you volunteer somewhere? Are you able to mentor others who do similar work to what you did? Are you engaged in civic activities? Do you engage in activities you are passionate about?
What are you doing to maintain or enhance a feeling of self-worth while providing benefits to others?
Emotional: Are you able to maintain a practice of gratitude: finding ways to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t, or what you can do rather than what you might no longer be able to do? Do you see a coach or counselor? Do you belong to a support group? Do you face your fears or allow them to constrict your life? When you feel sad, are you able to find things that bring you joy? When you are angry, are you quick to find a resolution or do you hold onto that anger?
What are you doing to maintain or enhance your emotional health?
Environmental: What are you doing to be in harmony with your environment? Have you taken care of any clutter and disorganization in your home and yard? Do you walk, bike or use a golf cart or public transportation instead of driving? Do you recycle and compost? Do you plant and tend a garden?
What do you do to honor and respect the environment?
While inevitable aspects of aging may make some of these categories more challenging for you, don’t give up. Doing something every week to contribute to each of these seven areas will have you aging actively. Know that you are responsible for your own wellbeing. It’s wonderful to have other people looking out for you; it’s something to be grateful for but know that even well-meaning people can’t meet your needs for you. You must engage with life to have an active one. If you already do, celebrate; and if you don’t, see if there is one thing you are willing to do to improve in any of these categories where you would like an improvement. Anything you can do to take control of your life as you age will serve you well in years to come. Next year you will be a year older. How do you want to spend that year—happy and active or miserable and stuck? It’s your choice.