Healthy, Expansive Aging
There is a new movement emerging characterized by expansive, creative aging. Developmental psychologists describe the life stage between middle age and old age as a new adult developmental stage. People are living longer, mostly healthier, and with much knowledge, skill and wisdom to offer to the world. Yet, in the United States, our culture tends to promote the notion of people retiring from careers, typically when we reach sixty-plus years old. The cultural imprint for retirees often results in a diminished sense of their self worth and reduced efficacy.
Historically, a retired lifestyle of play, exploration and travel was a by-product of economic and social prosperity that occurred after World War II and continued through to the end of the 1990’s. But as our beloved Mr. Dylan sings, “the times they are a-changing.”
So what does this new adult stage look like? This cohort of aging adults can find themselves fearful, alone, unsure and confused about their own personal worth and purpose. This specific stage has its associated worries and concerns about how to stay healthy as well as how to continue to contribute to the world. With the right support and resources, our lives can be transformed into a life filled with purpose, passion and opportunity to continue to earn.
One of the key developmental challenges of this stage is to honor, respect and value ourselves, recognizing that our accumulated knowledge is a considerable resource for our culture. Having matured past the concerns of our ego identities and achievement status, we can focus our energy to realizing more passion, purpose and potential impact.
How, you may ask? Groups are forming throughout the country that are creating community, connection and information about this stage. For example, Saging International groups hold elders as wise, talented, resourceful, and impactful. Members continue to see one another beyond the wrinkles and into the soul and encourage each other to live with dignity, purpose and self-value. Groups have also formed to use the resources of Get Your Shit Together: Life and Death Planning (GYST), which explores the practical tasks of this stage.
So what is expansive, healthy aging? It is a holistic alignment of spiritual practices, emotional maturity, intellectual understanding, and physical engagement.
Healthy aging is about having an attitude of gratitude and of wonderment at the opportunities still before us. The core ingredient is a commitment to life-long learning, which means being open to new ideas, experiences, and people. We do this with a sense of knowing that each day we are born anew.
This does not mean we deny the losses in our lives. We honor and embrace our grief, our disappointments, and our limitations and open to a deep recognition and compassion for our life story. We gratefully live each day welcoming the adventure, growth, surprise, and meaning that are yet to come. Healthy aging heightens our awareness of the preciousness and sacredness of each moment — and the blessing of each breath.
What are some of the practices that strengthen the attitudes of healthy, expansive aging? Below are some of our favorites.
* Meditation feeds our wisdom. It creates the space for us to access self-knowledge. Prayer focuses our intention and our deepest desires. Gratitude practice reminds us that the glass is half full — or too large to begin with. It also reminds us to acknowledge the small things in our life, like a moment of laughter with a grandchild, an intimate exchange with one of our children, rubbing lotion on our skin, or even having a warm house and hot bath in which to relax.
* Slowing down to watch a fire log move from blazing flames to ash reminds us of the beauty of the present moment, how fleeting life is, and that the nature of all things is to arise and pass.
* Being in nature awakens our senses, experiencing our aliveness.
* Watching clouds stimulates our imagination and reminds us that all is constantly changing.
* Work, paid or unpaid, enhances our sense of meaning and purpose.
* Movement such as yoga, dance and walking ignite the neurons that stimulate endorphins and increase serotonin, the happy hormones.
* Eating consciously and healthfully provides the foundation of balance and clarity.
* Frequent hydration maintains electrolyte balance and protects our body from depletion.
* Sleeping 8-9 hours a night provides our bodies the time to process toxins and helps to prevent early dementia.
* Singing increases our lung capacity, exercises our facial muscles, and releases oxytocin, which has been found to alleviate stress and anxiety.
* Reading, discussing, memorizing, thinking, writing, learning, mastering are activities that can increase brain cell develop and prevent us from early mental decline.
* Games such as chess, charades, Pictionary, and card playing can combine playfulness with concentration.
* Expressing ourselves through deep sharing, friendships, tears and laugher keeps us connected and honest with ourselves and others.
* Feeling the connection with an animal warms our hearts and fills us with unconditional love.
* Engaging in all aspects of the arts stimulates our creativity, inspires us to appreciate beauty, and excites us about life.
In aging we can continue to expand. Do not be bamboozled by the social media stereotypes. Instead, confront Father Time and let him know we are still growing whole…not old.
Lois Arthur, MEd, LMFT, a counseling psychologist, and Marrey Embers, PhD, an organizational development consultant, are part of a wisdom circle of 11 people in Boston that meets once a month. Topics explored are related to healthy aging, saging, purpose, passion, and creativity. The youngest member is 55 and the oldest is 82. They can be reached at (617) 232-3433 or email@example.com.
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