Although growing older comes with a number of major life changes, science can help inform the things we do in the here in and now to forestall the most serious features of the aging self, promoting healthspan and not just lifespan.
Build Muscle – Muscle mass is one the best predictors of health and longevity. Muscle tissue is known to release its own chemicals called myokines, which can have benefits that span cognition, immunity and anti-cancer activity. By performing regular, resistance-based exercise that prioritizes strength, we can delay the loss of bone density and risk of physical injuries.
Vitamin D – Commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is in fact a critical hormone that helps maintain healthy bones, boost our immune system and improve our cardiovascular function. With age, the production of vitamin D in the skin can become less efficient, so if we don’t spend enough time outdoors, our risk of vitamin D deficiency may increase.
Neurodegenerative Diseases – One of the most unsettling aspects of aging is the potential for neurodegenerative disease. These conditions are increasingly prevalent in those with diabetes, suggesting that the brain’s blood flow and energy supply may be compromised. Research indicates that regular physical exercise, a healthy whole foods diet and staying intellectually active could at least slow the rate of decline.
Mindfulness – As we get older, major arteries can become thicker and less flexible, leading to increased blood pressure and undue strain on the heart. A regular mindfulness practice such as yoga or meditation has been shown to stem the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. By freeing us from this “fight-or-flight” state, this habit can improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Stay Social – As social animals, maintaining a strong sense of community and close personal relationships into old age are underestimated contributors to longevity. While social isolation in seniors can result in significant physical and mental decline, research suggests that close loved ones offer important emotional support and behavioral modifications that can overcome periods of high stress.
Metabolism – “My metabolism is slowing down!” That’s what we often hear, as the aging body becomes less effective at using energy, placing us at risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. By maintaining our muscle mass and reducing sugar consumption, we can support hormonal health, preserve our metabolism and keep our vitality into those advanced years. As scientists continue to find ways to extend our lives, paying attention to these keys to healthy aging can help increase the quality of those extra years.
Bees, termites, and ants can teach us a lot about cooperation, communication, and the skills that keep societies together. But these so-called social insects may also hold secrets that could reshape our understanding of human aging. Many social insects exhibit surprising aging characteristics that cause their life spans to shift depending on their roles.
Following the death of a queen Indian jumping ant, for example, workers fight for the right to transform into an egg-laying ant. Much is at stake: the life expectancy of an egg-layer is five times longer than that of a worker’s. Though fruit flies, mice, and nematodes currently dominate aging research, some scientists say social insects’ aging behaviors could help dissect aging mechanisms in humans. This video will take you deep into the catacombs—er, honeycombs—of insect aging.
Ikaria, a tiny island in the Aegean sea, is known as a blue zone, a special place where life expectancy is much higher than the rest of the world. We travel there to explore just what it is that makes the island so special.
When asked how likely they would be to get a COVID-19 vaccine when available and if no cost to them, 58% of older adults indicated they would be likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine (33% very likely, 25% somewhat likely), 28% said they were unlikely (11% somewhat unlikely, 17% very unlikely), and 14% were unsure or did not know.
About two in three older adults (63%) indicated they received a flu shot last flu season. Seven in ten either received one since August 2020 (34%) or intended to get one this flu season (38%). Nearly half of adults age 50–80 (49%) believed that getting a flu vaccine is more important this year compared to other years, 44% said it is just as important, and 7% said it was less important.
Interest in getting a COVID-19 vaccine was more common among those age 65–80 compared with those 50–64 (63% vs. 54%), men compared with women (64% vs. 52%), and Whites compared with Hispanics and Blacks (63% vs. 51% vs. 40%). Individuals who lived with others, had higher household incomes, or had more education were also more likely to report they would get a COVID vaccine.
Half of adults age 50–80 (52%) said they personally knew someone who had COVID-19, and 2% reported having had it themselves. One in five older adults (19%) indicated they personally knew someone who died from COVID-19. The likelihood of getting a COVID-19 vaccine did not differ based on whether respondents knew someone who had COVID-19 or who died from it.
In deciding whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine, older adults rated the following as very important: how well it works (80%), their own research (56%), and if it was recommended by their doctor (52%), public health officials (42%), or family and friends (13%). Cost was rated as very important by 30% of older adults.
From 2019 to 2020, there was a substantial increase in the proportion of older adults who reported that their health care providers offered telehealth visits. In May 2019, 14% of older adults said that their health care providers offered telehealth visits, compared to 62% in June 2020.
Similarly, the percentage of older adults who had ever participated in a telehealth visit rose sharply from 4% in May 2019 to 30% in June 2020. Of those surveyed in 2020, 6% reported having a telehealth visit prior to March 2020, while 26% reported having a telehealth visit in the period from March to June 2020.
Over the past year, some concerns about telehealth visits decreased among adults age 50–80 whether or not they had a telehealth visit. Older adults’ concerns about privacy in telehealth visits decreased from 49% in May 2019 to 24% in June 2020, and concerns about having difficulty seeing or hearing health care providers in telehealth visits decreased from 39% in May 2019 to 25% in June 2020. Concerns about not feeling personally connected to the health care provider decreased slightly (49% to 45%).
Becoming an Age-Friendly Health System entails reliably acting on a set of four evidence-based elements of high-quality care and services, known as the “4Ms,” for all older adults. When implemented together, the 4Ms represent a broad shift to focus on the needs of older adults:
(1) What Matters: Know and align care with each older adult’s specific health outcome goals and care preferences including, but not limited to, end-of-life care and across settings of care;
(2) Medication: If medication is necessary, use Age-Friendly medication that does not interfere with What Matters to the older adult, Mobility, or Mentation across settings of care;
(3) Mentation: Prevent, identify, treat, and manage dementia, depression, and delirium across settings of care; and
(4) Mobility: Ensure that older adults move safely every day to maintain function and do What Matters
The Age-Friendly Health Systems movement, initiated in 2017, recognizes that an all-in, national response is needed to embrace the health and well-being of the growing older adult population. Like public health, health systems, including payers, hospitals, clinics, community-based organizations, nursing homes, and home health care, need to adopt a new way of thinking that replaces unwanted care and services with aligned interventions that respect older adults’ goals and preferences. Becoming an Age-Friendly Health System entails reliably acting on a set of four evidence-based elements of high-quality care and services, known as the “4Ms,” for all older adults.
From a USC Dornsife Magazine article by Susan Bell:
Not a Slippery Slope after all
Contrary to popular opinion, when it comes to well-being, our lives do not represent an inevitable decline from the sunny uplands of youth to the valley of death. Instead, the opposite is true — we can confidently look forward to old age as the happiest time of our lives.
More than 50 years have passed since The Who’s Pete Townshend penned these immortal lines on his 20th birthday, resulting in the band’s iconic ode to rebellious youth, “My Generation.” These days there is no hint that the rock star, now a spritely septuagenarian, is entertaining any regrets that his youthful wish didn’t come true.
So why do people grow happier as they age? Is it an absence of stress, or are they able to focus more on what brings them joy?
But as a young man, Townshend certainly wasn’t alone in dreading old age, and while his suggested remedy for avoiding the unavoidable may have been extreme, he also wasn’t alone in wanting to dodge what we tend to believe will be the miseries of aging.