Positive Aging – The Six Principles Helping Achieve Better Quality of Life as You Age

Most of us desire graceful aging. Positive aging enables us to handle anticipated and unanticipated changes in health, body, and mind. How will you plan and prepare for the next decades of your life?

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Positive Aging – The Six Principles Helping Achieve Better Quality of Life as You Age
4 Min Read December 22nd, 2022 Updated:September 1st, 2023

Positive aging, an oxymoron, or a plausible theory? "To be young and beautiful, forever." is the core of human aspiration. It certainly begs the question: has it always been this way? Is our fixation on the sheer elusiveness of youth indeed intrinsic? Are the fruits of the collective consciousness and its evolution palatable, or perhaps overripe? No matter our existential trajectory, we can't escape the most human in us; the fear of nearing the edge of a precipice and looking down into the final abyss.

The abyss of mortality. Yes, that was dark. Or was it? – Let's shift the perspective a bit. Live a little. Positive aging is about embracing the idea of the impending end without the paralyzing fear preventing us from fully appreciating the rest of our earthly days. So, how do we get there? By adopting six simple principles of positive aging.

What is Positive Aging?

Don't let the new age, affirmation-based term rattle you. Positive aging, or successful aging, is not a newly coined pseudo-philosophy for hip retirees. Overemphasizing the positive puts pressure on people, no matter their age. "Hey, happy times! Or maybe, you have Parkinson's? You should be ecstatic! – No. Positive aging is about having continuity of self and our lives as we age. 

By adopting the principles of successful aging, we're not trying to abruptly disown the previous, younger version of self but continue living a life that closely resembles our past lifestyles. The definition of positive aging is not set in stone, as every culture interprets it differently. Here's one version (Rowe & Kahn, 1997):

Successful aging is multidimensional, encompassing the avoidance of disease and disability, the maintenance of high physical and cognitive function, and sustained engagement in social and productive activities.

1. Eat Right

Let's steal a phrase from Michael Pollan's book: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." As we get older, our bodies require less food. Healthy ingredients (i.e., vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruit) help with existing chronic conditions (and are equally crucial for prevention) heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. You can also add more supplements to your diet, such as a collagen elixir to improve skin elasticity and hydration.

Hakuun Yasutani, Founder of the Sanbo Kyodan organization of Japanese Zen, says: "Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor." The "80% rule" stops us from overeating (which can lead to inflammation and digestion issues). So, when do we stop? The moment we no longer feel hungry. 

2. Think of it as a Habit, not a Chore

Positive aging is all about shifting the mindset. Surely, we're not getting any younger, but let's go easy on huffing and grunting for now; it won't do us any favors. If we aspire to age successfully, we must act accordingly. Hence, we should:

  • build our balance and strength: tai chi, dancing, yoga, gym, grocery shopping

  • break up our sitting time: take phone calls standing, pacing

  • be active: incorporating routine, planning your day

Staying physically fit prepares us, both physiologically and psychologically, for whatever is to come. Life yearns motion. By embracing the "motion" rule, we are sure to stay "in the groove" and wholeheartedly welcome the passage of time.

3. Cultivate Meaning and Purpose

Or, as the Japanese would say, ikigai. It's one of the fundamental principles of positive aging. A Japanese concept, it refers to something that gives an individual a sense of purpose. Why do we get up in the morning? What drives us? Not losing, maintaining the presence of, or finding meaning and purpose is of paramount importance. Without it, our longevity and health can easily become susceptible to deterioration. Best outlet? Creativity. "Oh, I couldn't possibly; that ship has sailed." No. No excuses. Remember Leni Riefenstahl? She loved swimming with stingrays, and so she did. (way into her 90's, may we add) Also, she was 101 when she died. – Nobody's expecting Auguste Rodin-level craftsmanship; don't be The Thinker. Be The Doer.

4. Community

Older adults experience discrimination on a daily basis. They are found obsolete, oblivious, and a hindrance to humanity's progression. But the ones who exclude the elderly will, too, live to grow old. 

The most important part of this successful aging construct is staying connected (or connecting) to the community. Older people are tremendous assets with unparallel crystallized intelligence (empiric, experiential.)

We can feel a sense of belonging by giving people our time, whether volunteering, chatting with the local cashier, or babysitting the neighbor's dog. Plus, it keeps us positively engaged. After retiring, many relocate to a warmer climate. And why not? Long-distance moving, for example, from Illinois to Florida may be an arduous endeavor, but if experts can assist you, why delay the adventure?

5. Deep Breathing and a Glass of Wine

Sensory experiences are essential, especially as we grow older. Moderate consumption of alcohol (one drink per day for the ladies and up to two for gentlemen), namely, red wine, is linked to myriad health benefits. A glass of red wine can:

  • be a good conversation starter

  • protect us against malignant cells

  • improve our heart health

  • make us giggle

Moderate wine consumption can alleviate accumulated stress; combined with deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, we're looking at a potential mental health-boosting power tool.

6. Avoid the Graveyard of Regret

Aging invites reflection. Lamenting over our past and holding on too tightly can only hinder the joy of the present moment. On the upside, one of the things that people who age positively do is they can move on and focus on the "here and now." Life is a spectacular sum of gains and losses; reflection is, indeed, inevitable. However, we must establish a sense of balance without making room for a fatalistic perspective. 

Despite having an illness, we can still experience a sense of well-being if our mindset channels a positive narrative. We may not be able to cure them, but the power of healing comes from appreciating what we do have. Also, getting a pet adds to our longevity and comfort.

Closing Thoughts

The principles of positive aging conclude to remember not to care too much. As we get older, we care less about what others might think. Time is precious. Shame, guilt, and embarrassment – out the window. Stand tall, stand proud.

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About the Author

Callan Browning is a full-time blogger with an undying love for psychology. He volunteers at a local soup kitchen on his days off.

LTC News Contributor Callan Browning

Callan Browning

Contributor since December 22nd, 2022

Editor's Note

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