Aging is an inevitable part of living, and with it comes an increasing number of major life changes such as retirement, children leaving home, need to downsize, loss of loved ones, and/or physical challenges. For many people, it also brings fear and anxiety about the future.
Most of these fears stem from common misconceptions about growing old. The truth is that you are stronger and more resilient than you may realize, and in most cases, can continue to thrive no matter your age or circumstances.
Common misconceptions about aging
Aging means declining health and or disability.
Fact: While not all illness or pain is avoidable, many of the physical challenges associated with aging can be prevented, overcome, or dramatically alleviated by exercising, eating right, and taking care of yourself. It is a fallacy to believe that growing old automatically leads to poor health or the need for a wheelchair or walker. Lots of old people enjoy vigorous good health right up to the end of their days.
God wants you to continue living a productive life and bear fruit even in old age.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green. – Psalm 92:12,14
Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. – Deuteronomy 34:7
And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. – Joshua 14:10b-11
Memory loss is an inevitable part of aging.
Fact: As we age, it is not unusual to experience occasional lapses of short-term memory, such as forgetting someone’s name, or not being able to immediately think of something you’re trying to remember, but usually, if you give yourself time, the information will come to mind. This is not a sign of senility. Significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging.
You’ll lose your ability to learn new things or be of value to others.
Fact: Old people are just as capable of learning new things and adapting to change as younger people are, plus they have invaluable wisdom to share that comes from their life experiences. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
Great esteem is attributed to gray hair in the Bible. It is considered an honor to be desired and appreciated. Old people are to be valued and respected because of the wisdom and experience they have gained throughout their lives.
Gray hair is a crown of glory;it is gained in a righteous life. – Proverbs 16:31
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. – Proverbs 20:29
What is successful aging?
There is no standard definition of successful aging. It was described, by Rowe and Kahn (1987) as being free of disability or disease, having high cognitive and physical abilities, and interacting with others in meaningful ways. However, more recent studies suggest that the absence of disease or disability is not the most important determining factor of aging well. Your mental attitude and ability to adapt to changing circumstances is. People afflicted with chronic disease can age just as successfully as those who are in good health.
Tips for successful aging
Have an attitude of gratitude. Look for things to be grateful for. Give thanks each morning for the gift of a new day (Psalm 118:24). Growing older is a privilege not granted to everyone. Practice countering negative thoughts with “yes, but…” statements.
Look for blessings such as the freedom from responsibilities you once had, that now frees up time to pursue hobbies or other activities you couldn’t get to before. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says we should “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Be flexible and willing to adapt. Build up your resiliency, and find healthy ways to cope with challenges. If you are faced with physical limitations, for example, accept them, and be open to using assistive devices or adjusting your activities. Focus on what you have and can do, and make the most of it, rather than lament the things you don’t or can’t.
Boost your mood. Learn to look on the bright side of things. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Positive emotions such as joy can have a calming effect on your nervous system, relieving stress, soothing muscle tension, and lowering your blood pressure. Find things to do that you enjoy, whether it’s hiking, gardening, or visiting a museum. It can be anything at all, just so long as it brings you joy.
Develop a sense of humor. Laughter has a strong healing effect on the body, mind, and spirit, and a sense of humor can help get you through tough times. The Bible says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
Stay connected and engaged. Loving relationships are key to thriving longevity. Try to reach out and connect with others, for example, by joining a common interest group or a sports team. Stay engaged with family and friends. Even if they do not live close by, you can still stay in frequent touch by phone, text, or e-mail.Get involved in your community. Find ways to use and pass along your skills to the younger generation. Be an encourager, a volunteer, a mentor. Be always on the lookout for Divine appointments – opportunities to share your testimony, what you’ve learned from your experiences, and the ways God has worked in your life.
Keep moving and nurture your body. It is important to stay physically active and to take care of your body. Regular exercise can increase vitality, improve sleep, give mental health a boost, and even diminish chronic pain.
Doing something aerobic, such as brisk walking, gets your heart pumping, and helps keep brain cells healthy by delivering more oxygen to them. Stretching increases flexibility, and a resistance workout will help maintain muscle and increase strength.
Eat well. Healthy eating is important for maintaining your energy and health. Cut back on sugary foods and refined carbs, and load up on high fiber fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes, and whole grains instead.
Get plenty of sleep to improve concentration and memory. Your brain cannot function properly without adequate sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people over sixty-five need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Keep your mind sharp. Stretch your brain by doing things that keep your mind busy and engaged, like taking up a hobby, doing puzzles, or playing games. Explore new interests, and experiment with activities that are not your norm. Challenge yourself to learn something new, such as how to play an instrument or speak a foreign language. Be curious and observant, and look for ways to be creative.
Christian counseling for seniors
If you have questions or feel you need more help navigating your way through a successful aging process than what this article has provided, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to help support and encourage you on your journey, using Christian perspectives.
McMaster University (March 10, 2021). Successful aging: what it means to older adults. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, mcmasteroptimalaging.org.
Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Monika White, Ph.D. (January 2021). Aging Well, Healthy Aging, HELPGUIDEORG INTERNATIONAL, HelpGuide.org.
“Talk to the Hand”, Courtesy of Sai Balaji Varma Gadhiraju, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting in the Sun”, Courtesy of Bruno Aguirre, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Baking with Grandma”, Courtesy of Christian Bowen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible”, Courtesy of Charl Folscher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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