Many of us are afraid of getting older, since we tend to associate aging with a downward spiral. However, there are quite a few benefits that age brings to us, including increase in competence, wellbeing, and optimal functioning. By incorporating mindfulness into our lives, we can actually get the great benefits of aging and not let the fear and worries get in the way.
I recently took a course on adult development and successful aging. One of the key learnings I took from it was that aging doesn't necessarily imply a downward spiral, that many of us associate it with and worry about.
My course mates and I were pleasantly reassured that, instead, our competence, wellbeing, and optimal functioning actually increase as we age and we also gain a deeper understanding of many things in life.
But sometimes it isn't so easy to get those great benefits of aging.
Our fear and worries of having less time left in this world and the stress of noticing the decline in physiological and cognitive functions can truly get in the way of embracing our increase in competence and contempt with life.
This is where our risk of developing conditions, that are at least partly related to stress and lifestyle, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, dementia, etc. becomes much higher.
Research has shown some key factors that we need in order to prevent this and ensure that we age successfully, maintaining our wellbeing into the elderly days (1, 2):
An overall life satisfaction and optimistic view on most situations in life
Feeling that your life has a meaning / purpose
Doing activities that bring value to both yourself and others
Engagement with life and meaningful interactions
Coping with age-related stressors, such as loss, chronic illness and resilience towards the outside factors and environment
Interestingly, mindfulness can really help us to achieve these factors so that we can age successfully.
I have received a very informative and comprehensive infographic from Be Independent Home Care (https://www.beindependenthomecare.ie) of how mindfulness protects you as you get older and how it can help you to get the benefits of aging, rather than the downsides.
Check out the lovely infographic below and read on to learn in further detail how you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
As you can see in the infographic, mindfulness is proven to have lots of great benefits for our physical and mental health, especially the ones that are important as we age.
So, in line with the Be Independent Home Care's tips, here's
a list of how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life in order to embrace the great benefits of aging:
1. Acknowledge your competence and abilities that have improved in your life and keep taking on new challenges.
Stop saying "I'm too old for xyz". Recognize the aspects that you have improved in your life the older you've become.
For example, you may have advanced in your career and even become an expert in your field. Or, you may have improved your relationships with those who matter the most to you and have become more selective to where you put your energy and time. You may feel more confident with yourself and more secure about yourself now, compared to how you were when you were younger.
Truly acknowledge the things that have improved in your life and feel proud about them. Continue developing, learning and improving in the fields that are most important to you and don't be afraid to try new things just because of your age.
2. Cherish your social circle and be open to making new friends.
I've recently read Héctor García and Francesc Miralles' book Ikigai, which talks about the Japanese secrets of living a long and healthy life. The authors studied centenarians living in Okinawa, Japan - one of the few places in the world which has the highest life expectancy, and found that one of the factors that contributed to their long and healthy lives was - yes, you've probably guessed it right - social life.
In fact, the residents in Okinawa value social life so much that when they are born, they are assigned to a social support group, which they are a part of throughout their lives. It can be thought of as a form of extended family. As they get older, they keep regularly meeting up and still doing activities such as karaoke or dancing well into a very old age. They meet their social group several times a week.
During my course on adult development, my course mates and I got to interview the elderly and we found that the happiest and most successfully-aging elderly had regular contact with their families and friends.
One way to include mindfulness into social life is to practice mindful communication, which you can read about in my earlier article: A way to form deeper and more meaningful relationships.
3. Take mindful pauses when you feel stressed.
When things get overwhelming, remember to come back to the present moment and just observe what's happening in your head, your body and around you.
Try taking a few deep breaths and feeling every moment of them and where in your body the air flows. Notice the sensations in your body. Notice the thoughts that are running through your head. Notice where you are and everything around you.
Remember that you can incorporate mindfulness into every moment in your life. For more tips on how to tune in to the present moment, please read my earlier article: 5 easy ways to be mindful every day.
4. Look after your physical and mental health.
Mental and physical health are closely connected. Make sure to take care of your body in order to continue feeling great mentally. What and how you eat, how you sleep and how you move your body really makes a large impact on your mood, feelings and emotions.
Be mindful of what your body needs. For tips of mindful eating, I would recommend checking out my earlier article: Stop dieting: this is what you can do to achieve great physical and mental health instead.
5. Learn to let go of things that upset you and accept your reality as it is.
There's no way of escaping reality since no matter how hard you try, it tends to catch up with you sooner or later. What you can do instead, is to accept things as they are and in that way let go of things that you cannot change.
Check out my earlier articles on Accepting our emotions and ditching the "think positive" attitude , Did You Know That You Can Turn Your Luck Around and Become Happier? Here's How and How to stay calm in times of change and uncertainty to learn more about how to use mindfulness techniques to let go.
6. Continue pursuing your life mission / purpose
Another, very important aspect I have learned in the course and by reading the book Ikigai, is to keep having a purpose in life, a reason to get out of bed every morning and contribute with something meaningful daily.
The centenarian residents of Okinawa all continued working well into their elderly days. Even the 90+ year olds had a meaningful occupation that gave them a purpose.
Continuing to pursue your meaningful purpose in life not only keeps your mind sharp, but also helps you to be mindful by directing your full focus on the activity that you enjoy doing.
7. Practice meditation daily
Meditation is proven to have lots of health benefits, such as boosting cognition, making your brain younger, improving memory, and many others. The great thing about meditation is that you can get those benefits despite your age. So, it's never really too late to start.
Check out my earlier article Discover a way to boost your brain connections to learn more about the benefits of meditation.
I also encourage you to read these articles in order to learn how to do a simple meditation:
As you can see, there are lots of ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life and improve your health while aging. Which ways you choose to follow, is completely up to you.
If you are completely new to mindfulness, I would suggest taking it easy at the start. Begin by trying out one way at a time and really see whether this works for you, or not, before you incorporate more ways to be mindful into your days.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Certified Mindfulness Life Coach
1. Kahana, Eva, Boaz Kahana, and Jeong Eun Lee. "Proactive approaches to successful aging: One clear path through the forest."Gerontology60.5 (2014): 466-474.
2. Rowe, J.W., & Kahn, R.L. (1997). Successful aging. The Gerontologist, 37(4), 433-440.)