Your Health

Thrive over 55

How to live well through the golden years

Thrive over 55

BY KAREN L. KYLIUK
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, May / June 2015

Is there a secret to healthy aging and living well in our later years? Have you ever heard people say "I only want a long life if I am happy and healthy?"

Of course, there are a number of changes and experiences that can be expected during the second half of life, such as retirement, adult children moving out, perhaps some physical limitations or mental health challenges. So how do some older adults flourish in spite of the changes and transitions that come with getting older?

In fact, there are many ways to maintain and promote mental health and well-being, so that life can continue to be enjoyable and meaningful as we age.

Studies have shown that there are common characteristics in people who report living well and being content in their later years. For example, having at least one valued relationship, having a positive outlook on life, participating in enjoyable activities, and having a sense of purpose are key factors. It is also found that older adults who have a spiritual belief system or religious practice report greater life satisfaction and meaning.

As for any age, relationships are key to well-being. However, for older adults, this aspect of wellness can pose particular challenges such as when people are unable to leave their homes due to limited mobility, poor access to transportation, or even inclement weather. Social isolation and loneliness for older adults has been linked to increased risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and substance-related problems, and decreased longevity.

Social isolation and loneliness, in fact, are two different issues. Someone may be in a room surrounded by people but still feel alone because they lack meaningful connection. Social isolation, however, means not having interaction with other people - whether it's by choice because the person does not want it, or because of circumstance, such as when they can't go out.

Even when researchers controlled for income, age, gender, and existing health conditions, they concluded that the absence or presence of social support has a significant effect on health.

There are a number of innovative programs that allow people to stay socially connected. One example is the Senior Centre Without Walls concept, which is found across North America. This type of program is a free teleconference-based program for older adults 55-plus in Manitoba. It helps reduce social isolation by providing a variety of group conversations over the phone that are engaging and fun, such as talking about current events, culture or other topics of interest.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, and other applications, such as Skype for video chat, can also be an important way for older adults to connect with others, especially grandchildren and other family members.

The experience of loss can be prominent for people as they age, especially if the loss is perceived as significant or troubling. Losses such as loss of income, loss of relationships, loss of identity or roles, and loss of functioning, mobility, or independence are some of the experiences that may be encountered in the later years. Helpful supports and fun activities can help to ease the burden of loss. Choosing to focus on the positive aspects of aging and maintaining a sense of optimism are other important strategies. The later years often bring such benefits as freedom from the pressure of schedules, time to explore new opportunities and experiences, and decreased family responsibilities as adult children establish their own households. A consistent practice of gratitude helps psychological wellness by lifting mood and increasing satisfaction.

Having free time or even a more flexible schedule may bring new opportunities to engage in an old or new hobby or interest. There are a variety of local agencies and clubs that offer low-cost lectures, classes, special interest groups and travel opportunities. Discovering something new challenges the mind and stimulates creativity, which in turn has been proven to enhance wellness, especially as we age.

Being realistic and taking the time to reflect on what we would like, how we want to invest our time, and where we can contribute to our community and society are all important aspects of flourishing in our later years. Finding ways to share our skills and talents is a great way to find personal meaning - perhaps through volunteer work, a mentoring program or other avenues of community involvement.

Aging is inevitable; if we are fortunate, we will grow old. The key to healthy aging is to do things today that will support overall health and wellness for years to come. Living life to the fullest is something we all want, at any age; so remember to nourish your mind, body and spirit and enjoy life more.

Tips to thrive by

Taking steps toward being more mentally healthy as we age is an important part of a wellness plan. Here are five tips highlighted in the Thrive Over 55 campaign developed by the Winnipeg Health Region's mental health promotion team to take care of your mind, body, and spirit:

Discover

Explore one new thing you want to learn, such as a hobby you have always wanted to try or a skill you would like to develop. Challenging your mind provides intellectual stimulation, increases concentration, and supports optimal brain health.

Get up and go

Try to participate in some form of physical activity each and every day such as taking a walk or stretching. Visit your local community centre to find out what activities they offer for older adults. Being physically active maintains muscle and bone strength, improves balance, and enhances mood.

Share your gifts

Think of ways that you can give back and support others like helping a neighbour or mentoring a younger person. Offer your skills and expertise in your community or to organizations by volunteering. Contributing and sharing your skills, talents, and abilities benefits the recipient and adds meaning and purpose to your own life.

Reflect

Find a moment to sit down and recall good memories, go through an old photo album, write down a time in your life that was special, and then call someone to re-connect with and talk about the time you shared together. Remembering past memories that are pleasant helps to rekindle the positive feelings associated with those moments, places, or people and also helps people to embrace the changes or transitions that have taken place.

Gratitude

Before bed, recognize the good things that have happened in your day. Write down three good things and what you are thankful for, perhaps your pet, garden, children, or a friend you enjoy spending time with. Practicing gratitude increases positive thinking, boosts our immune system, and promotes better sleep.

For more information and programs for people 55 years of age or more, please visit:

Creative Retirement:
www.crm.mb.ca

Age and Opportunity:
www.ageopportunity.mb.ca/main/index.htm

Senior Centre Without Walls:
www.ageopportunity.mb.ca/services/scww.htm

Karen L. Kyliuk is a mental health resource and education facilitator with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: March / April 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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