7 steps to ageing positively.

Imagine embracing each passing year. Truly embracing. Wrapping your arms around being that one year older and genuinely looking forward to the year ahead. Celebrating what you’ve learned and looking forward to the challenges and lessons ahead.   This does not mean life is a bowl of roses, Pollyanna like. It’s accepting what is, with all the ups and downs, and moving forward in a way that accommodates the changes and makes space for more changes. Grey hair, wrinkles and all.  What have I done?

First, let me define positive ageing. I believe that ageing positively means that we embrace the passing of years and all that it brings with a positive attitude. So, despite the greying hair (or hair loss), wrinkles, age spots, aching bones, and increasingly poor eyesight we remain active, engaged, mostly enthusiastic and happy with life (I say mostly because it’s OK to be unenthusiastic and unhappy so long as it’s not the majority of the time).

I’ve chosen to perceive the negativities of ageing as symbols of a life well lived. I consider the marks of age as signs of all the highs and lows, joys, tears, and triumphs of a full life. So far all my ‘big’ birthday celebrations, acknowledging another decade has past, have felt great. In fact I am someone that feels life has got better with age.

If I subscribed to the view of ageing presented by media, or perhaps under represented by media, I’d not be writing this blog, starting a business, or thinking about my next camping or hiking holiday. I’d consider that the older I became the more of a burden I placed on my family and society as a whole. As governments wrangle with the changing demographics of our population and its associated costs it would be easy to perceive myself as a future problem. Fortunately, there is an increasing call for a change in the dialogue thanks to the Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, and blog posts that appear on various websites including the Huffington Post.

The question is, how do we embrace a positive ageing paradigm when culturally (at least here in Australia) there is so much negative dialogue about our ageing population?  Whether that be the burden we are going to place on our healthcare system, our challenge in remaining employed or gaining employment, or the way in which the aged and ageing are represented in the media and advertising (or not as the case may be).

After all, who says that ageing can be positive?

Fortunately, lots of people, including governments and politicians.  A Google search on the topic reveals an endless list of sources and resources.

But wait, cry the nay sayers.  Of course governments and politicians will promote this idea because it’s going to cost them a lot of money if we don’t change and it’s politically good PR.  Maybe, but there are others who believe that we can age differently too.  For an informed read that includes some great stories, I recommend Patricia Edgar’s book ‘In Praise of Ageing’.  Adele Horin’s blog is always a source of inspiration with one of her early posts Retirement: who’s a happy little Vegemite?  receiving nearly 50 comments from people sharing their retirement joys.  And, when the World Health Organisation has a publication outlining their policy framework for active ageing I’m confident that change is on the horizon.

The question remains though … how?  This question has two parts.  Part 1: How do I age positively?  Part 2: How do I change my attitude towards ageing?

Part 1: How to age positively …

  1. Exercise.
  2. Eat well.
  3. Work/volunteer.
  4. Engage with friends, family and the community.  i.e. Don’t keep yourself isolated from others.
  5. Meditation or prayer.

That’s the doing part.  Let’s say you’re doing some, most or all of these things.  And yet, your attitude towards ageing is still some way off being positive.  Now what?

Part 2: Changing our attitudes …

This is certainly more difficult because our attitudes are entrenched in our belief system based on personal experience and the cultural environment in which we have grown up or currently live.

In our culture, the event of ageing is generally perceived and spoken about as negative.  Why should we or would we believe the age stereotypes we’ve been presented with could be different?

They can be different when we personally have an experience that differs from current attitudes and belief about ageing.

Attitudes are evaluations of an external object which can include a person, event, or institution.  They are also generally stable over time unless we have one of the following:

  1. New information.  e.g. the Google search.
  2. New products.
  3. New services.
  4. Lifestyle changes.  Like those mentioned in the “how to’s above”.

Your Life Choices is one of many great sources of information, products, and services, all designed to keep us fit, active, and healthy as we age.

And yet still we can be trapped by the discourse on ageing.  Why?

For one thing, it can be hard to not “buy in” to a conversation about all the challenges of ageing.  However, there’s one last part to this idea of how we age positively…

Whether or not you have the confidence in your abilities to do things differently so that positive ageing can be your reality.  The extent to which you have self-efficacy with regards to ageing.

If we don’t believe we can, then we can’t.  I think, if we believe we can, we can.

There are four ways in which we can build self-efficacy.

  1. Personal experience.  This is the best way to gain confidence about our ability to do something.  Just eat differently, exercise, or volunteer.  See what happens.
  2. Someone telling us we can.  As this relies on an external source, it is less effective than personal experience because we may not believe it to be true for ourselves.  However, it may also be the kick start for us to give something a go.  And then, voila!  We’ve had an experience that differs from the cultural norm.
  3. Observing others who are doing what we want to do. Again, this is less effective than personal experience, however, if we take action as a result of an observation then again, we will have the experience that enables us to continue and ultimately believe that we are capable of the change required.  For example, we may observe older people in our community walking together in groups which may inspire us to join a gym or a walking club.

I’m always inspired by hearing stories of others who hike, or undertake adventure travel.  For example, I have a girlfriend who has done numerous lengthy hiking holidays in the UK, around Mont Blanc and most recently, in Turkey.  One day, I too look forward to doing such fabulous walks.  She also runs a great blog here – the inspiration for starting my own blog.

I have held the view for a long time that Tasmania and New Zealand are both places I’d love to explore further, whether that be by car, bike, or on foot.  Just the images are inspiration for me.

4.  Emotional arousal.  This usually occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation.  If we succumb to the difficulty our sense of self-efficacy may be reduced.  However, if we overcome the situation the belief in our ability is heightened.  For example, if we have a fall and our mobility is compromised we may feel as though our ability to do exercise and get out and about is reduced.  However, if we take this as a challenge and become determined to overcome our limitations, through a concerted physio or exercise program for example, we may be delighted with the outcomes.  Alternatively, we may seek to have a hip or knee replacement or utilise walking sticks or gophers so that we are as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

I faced this exact problem last year with weakening knees.  I chose physio and a focused, tailor-made exercise program.  I’m delighted that today I can go for a long bush walk without pain and now look forward to a big hiking holiday in the future.

The 7 steps to ageing positively?

  1. Exercise.
  2. Eat well.
  3. Work/volunteer.
  4. Engage with friends, family and the community.  i.e. Don’t keep yourself isolated from others.
  5. Meditation or prayer.
  6. Attitude.  Through new information, new products, new services or lifestyle changes we can change our negative attitude towards ageing to being positive.
  7. Self-efficacy.  That is, a belief in our ability to do things differently or live differently to how we may be doing things or living today.

Positively ageing?  I am.  Are you?

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