What is Positive Ageing?
Positive ageing is an approach that recognises how our mindset and attitudes affect our physical and emotional wellbeing as we age. The Positive Psychology Institute defines it as, “The process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.” Many cultures still maintain negative ideas about ageing, and if internalised these can act as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ that greatly increases the odds of ill health and depression. Positive ageing seeks to combat this negativity by promoting the positive aspects of ageing.
How Can We Promote Positive Ageing?
If we are looking for ways to promote positive ageing, then there is no better place to look than the world’s Blue Zones. The term “Blue Zone” refers to a region in which the life expectancy of the local population is considerably higher than the global average. In a 2005 article for National Geographic, Dan Buettner identified five Blue Zone regions:
1. Okinawa in Japan
2. Sardinia in Italy
3. Nicoya in Costa Rica
4. Icaria in Greece
5. Loma Linda, California.
In this article we look at eight lessons we can learn from these “Blue Zones” about how to encourage positive ageing and boost our life expectancy as a result.
8 Positive Ageing Tips from The World’s Blue Zones
1. Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Daily Routine
As you get older, it’s important to be mindful of your fitness level. Ensuring that you remain physically active is a key part of this. For those aged 65 and over, the HSE recommends at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise for at least five days every week. This can be as intense as you like – whether it’s pumping iron at the gym, taking a brisk stroll or even doing a spot of weeding in the garden! If you are not sure if exercise is safe for you or if you are currently inactive, ask your doctor.
2. Maintain A Healthy Social Life Research on the longest living communities in the world has found a positive link between older peoples’ social networks and their health behaviours. Therefore, it’s vital to spend time out of the house meeting like-minded friends. Some ways to do this could include volunteering or taking up a new hobby. If your health doesn’t allow for this, you may find private home care to be a good alternative. To learn more about how to avoid loneliness in older age, check out our infographic here.
3. Give As Much Time As You Can To Family Family life plays a key part in positive ageing. Families in Blue Zone communities tend to live with or near to ageing parents and grandparents. It has also been found that successful centenarians commit to a life partner and give plenty of love and time to their children.
4. Have A Clear Purpose According to The Blue Zones Project, having a sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. In fact, there have been a number of studies that show that having meaning in your life can lead to reduced stress, improved coping techniques, and greater engagement in health-promoting behaviours. Finding meaning is often something that many people struggle with post-retirement as their sense of purpose is strongly tied to the structure, responsibility and commitment of work. However, retirement offers a wonderful opportunity to rediscover your passions and focus your time on the things that are important to you.
5. Find A Way Of Relieving Stress It’s normal to experience a little stress from time to time. As we age, coping with stress can become more difficult so it’s important to learn effective stress management techniques. Some effective ways of managing stress include yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing exercises. Many people also find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to be helpful – this involves learning to identify negative thinking and replace it with healthy or positive thoughts.
6. Enjoy 1-2 Drinks A Day! Moderate consumption of alcohol (defined as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men) of red wine, in particular, has been linked with a wide range of health benefits including protection against certain cancers, improved mental health, and better heart health.
7. Go Green With Your Diet
Medical studies have found that those who reduce their meat intake tend to live longer. On average in the world’s Blue Zones, meat is consumed just five times per month. Meatless meals are based around beans, lentils, vegetables and whole grains. If the idea of going cold turkey on turkey doesn’t sound appealing to you, you could ease yourself into it by going meatless just one or two days a week. Take a look at our infographic, “Healthy Nutrition for Older People”, to learn more about how to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
8. Adopt The 80% Rule For Eating
“Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor”- Hakuun Yasutani, Founder of the Sanbo Kyodan organization of Japanese Zen.
As children, we are taught to clean our plates. However, in Okinawa Japan (home of the world’s highest proportion of centenarians) they have developed a practice called “Hara Hachi Bu” which dictates that you eat until you feel just 80% full. It takes approximately 20 minutes for our stomachs to tell our brain that we are full, so how can you tell when you reach the 80% point? One tip is to simply stop eating once you no longer feel hungry, rather than eating to the point of fullness.
The Secret to Successful Ageing
Research on positive ageing shows us time and time again that attitude is everything. No matter your age, if you have a negative attitude, it will worsen your quality of life. Yes, sometimes getting older can be hard, but studies tell us that, above all, it is our attitudes that most significantly impact how the negatives affect our lives.
“Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Jack Benny, New York Times (1974)