If you ask a senior what their secrets are to a happier, healthier life, chances are they will be a happy person to begin with. As we get older, we need to learn not to sweat the small stuff, and concentrate on what makes us feel good inside. We need to take care of our bodies and our minds, and remain connected to others to avoid the pitfalls of depression.
A 12-year study was done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School with data from 8,300 adults aged 65 and older. Participants were tested each two years to record their levels of depression, cognitive function, loneliness, memory and social network status. At the conclusion of the study, those who reported loneliness (about 1,400 subjects) at the beginning of the study saw a cognitive decline at a 20% higher rate than those who had not reported it. This is a good indicator that maintaining social relationships over time can be a great way to stave off depression. Even if it becomes more difficult to physically get around, with the help of technology it is easier than ever to keep in touch with friends and loved ones.
Another Harvard study that followed the habits of 724 men for 75 years (some went to Harvard, others grew up in very poor neighborhoods) concluded that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. The happiest, longest-living individuals—regardless of socioeconomic status—were those who were more socially connected to family, friends and their community. Wealthier people did not necessarily live longer than poorer people. The quality of the relationship was most important, not necessarily the number of friends one had. Having solid, joyful relationships with a partner (friend, spouse, etc.) kept their memories sharper for a longer period. Here are some other ways that seniors and others can stay happy and healthy:
1. Stay active. Whether it’s exercise or gardening, it brings happiness to live in the moment and feel like you are contributing to something positive. Find enjoyable weekly or monthly activities such as clubs or neighborhood walking groups.
2. Cultivate good relationships with current friends, and try to make new ones. It is not the number of friends one has, but the quality of the relationship that is most important. Studies showed that the number of positive relationships a person had at age 50 was a reliable predictor of good health at age 80.
3. Find purpose in what you do. Creating a mission statement for your life can affirm that you are meant to be here for a reason.
4. Keep learning and always stay curious. Taking a class or finding out more about the city you live in can open up many new possibilities. Be childlike in creativity and hope.
5. Minimize stress. Say “No” to activities that are draining and spend more time with good friends and family. Read a book, laugh, go to a movie that makes you smile. Try not to rush, but concentrate on relaxing more. A yoga class, a massage or a hobby like drawing can be very therapeutic. Find some quiet places and retreat to them frequently.
6. Get enough rest. At least 8 hours of sleep a night is ideal and so restorative. Not enough sleep can be harmful to the immune system and also can lead to crankiness or depression.
7. Remain spiritual. Inner peace can be found in prayer and personal faith.
8. Maintain a strong social network. Stay connected with friends, family and others through activities such as phone calls, get-togethers and social activities.
9. Utilize technology. Facebook and email can be a great way to stay in touch. Texting on a mobile phone is easy and fast.
10. Don’t wait to take a vacation or enjoy life. Experience items on that bucket list if possible, and use retirement money for this purpose, rather than saving it all for a rainy day.
11. Hire a companion who can create and share positive memories. Long-term happiness and health are important goals, but seniors need to work hard to achieve these. Keep in mind the above suggestions—many from centenarians—and reap the benefits of a happier and hopefully longer life.
Homecare Assistance of Fort Worth offers in-home care companions who can provide positive experiences such as outings, as well as help with household essentials or other tasks. Our companions can also help ensure healthy eating habits, exercise and other elements of a well-balanced life. We also offer our Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, an in-home activities program to promote brain health, and our Balanced Care Method™, a holistic approach to healthy aging that spans diet, exercise and mentally-engaging activities.