In a society obsessed with maintaining youthfulness, it’s crucial to recognize that the solution to aging well cannot be found in a bottle, or purchased off a shelf. Optimal aging instead requires a holistic approach that encompasses physical, mental, emotional, and lifestyle factors.
With the global population of older adults expected to double by mid-century, it’s essential to prioritize one’s health to ensure not only longer life expectancy but also a higher quality of life. This implies not only extending one’s lifespan, but also enjoying better health.
With longer life expectancy, the time is right for us to move away from using the broad terminology of age, and rather stage. Living longer means that later stages of our lives offer the potential to find a purpose that is less centered around work, children, and career – to relish the joy of life and all the wonders of the world. It is a stage where one gets to reap the rewards from the years that have been lived and look forward to the ones ahead.
But fully enjoying this later stage hinges on living a well-balanced life in the years leading up to it.
Here are four ways holistic wellness can ensure you not only live longer but enjoy it too.
Four Ways Holistic Wellness Promotes Healthy Aging
1. Nurturing an Active Lifestyle
The World Health Organisation defines healthy aging as the “process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that will enable older people to do the things that matter to them.” Essentially, this means that to live our best life at every stage, it is optimal for us to have the physical ability to do so.
This is where regular physical activity plays a significant role.
Dr. Peter Atti is a surgeon turned physician who focuses on extending health span, and published a book – Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity. The book categorically concludes that exercise is a critical component of a person’s holistic wellness routine. His data proves that exercise prevents both cognitive and physical decline better than any other intervention. It is the single most potent tool we have in the health-span-enhancing toolkit.
Numerous studies support his theory and show that regular exercise, no matter its intensity, can also help reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases.
2. Prioritizing Emotional Well-being and Purpose
A holistic approach to health recognizes the impact of social and personal factors on well-being. A good example of this can be found in the Okinawa Centenarian Study (OCS), conducted in Japan. Considered the longest, continuously running study of centenarians in the world, the OCS has found that longevity and health in older adults is associated with factors such as physical activity, a balanced and healthy diet, a sense of belonging, a supportive social network and having a sense of purpose (ikigai).
From a social point of view, engaging in exercise as a group while communicating with others, was shown to result in much greater cognitive benefit than activities done on your own. It also lowered the likelihood of developing dementia.
As the world recovers from the isolation of the pandemic, we are finding that people are coming back to gyms to reignite their desire for belonging and a sense of community. Social places like gyms allow us to linger longer to connect with friends and like-minded individuals. Many people, who are retired and not working, enjoy their daily routine of meeting their community at the gym. This is what provides them with a sense of purpose in their everyday lives.
And so, fostering mental and emotional well-being through activities that bring joy and fulfillment contributes toward healthy aging.
3. Embracing a Positive Mindset
Aging does not necessarily equate to a decline in perceived health and quality of life. Research has shown that individuals’ perception of personal health extends beyond the physical aspects.
A recent survey found that many baby boomers perceived their quality of life as high, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a positive mindset. Cultivating optimism, gratitude, and resilience can positively impact mental well-being and contribute to healthy aging.
4. Emphasising Self-Care and Stress Management
Prevention plays a vital role in healthy aging. Investing in prevention efforts focused on age-related conditions such as dementia, sensory impairments, and mental health in this regard is crucial.
A report by McKinsey estimated that older adults’ disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) could be reduced by almost 30 percent, solely by applying proven interventions. These include maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, stopping smoking, and ensuring access to vaccines and preventive medications. Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, and self-care practices, can also mitigate the negative impact of stress on overall well-being.
Some practical ideas
Experts have outlined a framework for exercise that is built on four pillars: stability, strength, aerobic and anaerobic training. We should be training to some extent across all four.
Where traditionally your cardio training is enough to keep you fit and healthy as you age, it is critical that some of your exercise routine includes strength and stability. We lose muscle mass and bone density as we age, so a session or two a week with a personal trainer could do wonders for your continued success, as well as help you live longer and stronger well after you hang up your running shoes.
For those who have been injured, aerobic and anaerobic training would be a hard ask, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay home while you recover. There are exercises that you can do, and in fact, should do, to recover quicker. If this is done within a health club environment, the social environment can also help. You might come across someone else who has had a similar injury to you, who will give you advice on how to tackle rehabilitation.
Holistic wellness is the key to healthy aging. By prioritizing physical well-being, mental and emotional health, a positive mindset, self-care, stress management, and meaningful connections, individuals can ensure not only a longer lifespan but also a fulfilling and vibrant one. It is time to shift our focus from the pursuit of eternal youth to embracing holistic approaches that support healthy aging for individuals worldwide. Let us celebrate the additional years we have been granted and make the most of them by adopting a comprehensive approach to wellness.