In my graduate studies, I reviewed a number of studies and articles on successful aging in the literature. Some of it was based on theory. Some sought input directly from people over 50 to see how they defined the concept for themselves. Think about what if means to age successfully. How would you describe it?
In a recent study published in The Gerontologist last month, researchers asked older adults in the U.S. and Germany to identify determinants of successful aging. There were some striking similarities between residents of the two countries. Here is what they most frequently cited:
- Attitudes and beliefs—characterized as positive thinking, openness, and acceptance.
- Activities/interests—including engaging in life, learning new things, regular exercise, creative endeavors, and hobbies.
- Social resources—such as having supportive and positive friends and family members, having a loving intimate partner, and participating in social activities.
- Health—described as vitality and energy, lack of disease, mental and physical fitness, and habits of nonsmoking/limited alcohol consumption/good diet/cognitive activity.
These and other aspects of successful aging identified in the study are similar to those found in earlier research studies. One exception is that social resources were mentioned more often this time. In addition, both activities/interests and attitudes and beliefs were shown to be more important than before.
All of the characteristics named emphasize quality of life rather than length of life. Meaning and purpose in life matter more than simply a greater number of years. What would you add to your own definition of successful aging?