Happiness is Ageless
Learn why it doesn’t hurt to stay optimistic about getting older.
“Look on the bright side.”
We know it’s good advice. But sometimes it’s easier said than done. It’s normal to have some level of worry about the impact of aging. But there’s some evidence that keeping a positive attitude might be good for your health.
The evidence on positive thinking
One study found a positive mindset related to lower risks for cardiovascular disease. Another study found that older people who think more positively about aging may actually recover faster from disabilities. Researchers caution that there are a lot of unknowns about how positive thinking impacts the brain. But there’s good news on this front. Brain imaging seems to show a link between positive thinking and reward circuits related to well-being that may lower stress hormones.
Teaching your brain compassion
You can’t flip a switch to a more positive outlook. But research has shown that certain activities can promote changes in the brain linked with positive social behaviors. One study found people who participated in 2 weeks of meditation on compassion and kindness showed changes to their brain circuits that promoted increased generosity. Surround yourself with positive sayings and posters, have a daily inspirational book or keep a written gratitude journal.
The upside of aging
Have you thought about the benefits of getting older? While being a grandparent might not always be relaxing, most people find it gratifying. If you are retired, you may be free to travel or enjoy working in the garden. You can appreciate what you have already accomplished and explore new activities. And you can relish that cup of coffee or tea late into the morning.
Getting support if you need it
If you find that you are losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy, you have a depressed mood, or your sleep and appetite have been affected for more than 2 weeks, you may be showing signs of depression. Depression is a common but serious condition for older adults. Talk to your health care provider if you can’t shake off negative thoughts, or if you feel hopeless or find it hard just to get through the day.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or harming others, seek help right away. If you feel there is an immediate danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Enjoying the years to come
In addition to keeping a positive attitude, follow these tips on how to be healthy into your golden years:
- Accept the things you can’t control. Focus on things you can control, like how you respond to challenges. It may help to view problems as an opportunity to learn or to better yourself. Try to keep stress to a minimum.
- Stay active. Get out of the house and involved in your community. Being productive can help keep you feeling good.
- Remain connected with family and friends.
- Give those just starting out in their careers the benefit of your years of experience and volunteer to be a mentor.
- Get moving. Regular exercise is important for everyone. It can help fight heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. It can also help your balance and keep you strong enough to do your everyday activities. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level.
- Eat smart. Keep sweets, saturated fats and highly processed foods to a minimum. Choose from all the food groups. Eat whole grains for at least half of your daily grain intake, and eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Low-fat dairy is important, and if you eat meat or skinless chicken, choose the leanest cuts. Eating seafood twice weekly is encouraged, as is limiting your sodium intake. Healthy adults are recommended to have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, see your doctor about quit-smoking methods.
- Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day and women should have no more than 1 drink per day.
- Get vaccinated. Make sure you are up to date on your vaccinations and get an annual flu shot.
- Don’t forget screenings. Talk with your doctor about screenings that are right for you.
- If you’re living with a chronic illness, work with your doctor to take the best possible care of yourself.
For most people, having a strong support system is a key to a positive outlook. Try to surround yourself with people who are positive and make you feel good about yourself. This can bring humor and laughter into your life. A positive outlook can help you embrace your later years and be thankful for what you have.
Note: If you’re physically inactive or have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe for you.
By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer
National Institute on Aging. Participating in activities you enjoy. Accessed November 5, 2020.
National Institutes of Health. NIH News in Health. Positive emotions and your health. Accessed November 5, 2020.
Helpguide.org. Cultivating happiness. Accessed November 5, 2020.
Mayo Clinic.org. How to be happy: Tips for cultivating contentment. Accessed November 5, 2020.
Last Updated: November 16, 2020