Live Younger Longer

Your birth certificate gives your date of birth, but does it really say anything significant about you other than when to send a birthday card? Does it indicate how old you feel? It can’t tell people if you swim for an hour every morning or that you play at a local jazz club once a week. Chronological age is based on a number, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Behavioral age, however, is measured in things you absolutely can control: attitude and activity.

Think of behavioral age as how you decide to play out life. There are people who simply accept their date of birth and abdicate their behavior to that age—and others who do not. Just remember: It’s your choice.

Your choices help set the parameters for your life moving forward. In fact, lifestyle choices account for about 75 percent of how we age. For instance, you could choose to work around physical limitations or you can limit your level of activity because of them. You can expand your social network or allow it to shrink. You can make plans to experience new things, or stick with the status quo. In the same way that physical activity boosts your energy levels and lifts your spirits, so do mental and social activities—from going back to school to volunteering or working part time.

Here are some choices you can make to stay vibrant at any age.

Live with optimism. Being optimistic doesn’t mean thinking the glass is full when it’s practically empty. It means feeling confident that you can fill it back up. For many aging people, that confidence comes naturally. As time passes, we undergo a developmental process that gives us a more positive outlook. We have a perspective on life that we couldn’t have had decades earlier, and that allows us to take stock of what has worked in our lives and what hasn’t. Age has a way of making us realize how we can best spend our time and energies in productive ways.

Dream for the future. When you’re young, life is all about making plans and looking forward to the next adventure. In order to stay vibrant, you need to continue dreaming about what lies ahead and taking steps to make it happen. Live in the present and stay fully engaged with people and projects in your life. Keep your calendar full. Explore new places, or rediscover your own city. Sign up for those guitar lessons or art classes. Involve yourself in whatever you find stimulating to keep the body and brain vital. Make a list of all the things you’ve wanted to do, and see what you can do now.

Build social connections. There was probably a time when you had too many people in your life to keep up with. Little by little, those relationships drift away, as marriages end, people move, and friends get sick or die. Aging without a vibrant social life can be lonely and depressing—not to mention boring—so it’s important to replace the relationships that start to disappear and strengthen the ones that remain. This takes initiative on your part, but it makes getting older worthwhile. Knock on a neighbor’s door, join a club, sign up for a charity event, go on a guided group walk.

Find spirituality. Whether you’re moved by faith or by an outside force such as music or nature, making a spiritual connection can be a source of joy and inspiration. This could mean strengthening your relationship with organized religion, but it certainly doesn’t have to. Spirituality is very personal and can take many forms, all of which have a common bond—connecting with something greater than yourself. Determining your spiritual personality may help guide you toward a spiritual practice that suits you best and gives you the gifts of ritual and tradition—powerful elements of aging successfully.

Strive for purpose. Regardless of age, everyone needs a reason to get out of bed every day. Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish today, this week, this month. What drives you to get up, get to work, get active and get involved? This may change with time (for example, when you retire), but it’s important to have answers to these questions that are meaningful to you. Research says that people who have a purpose live longer and are much less likely to be afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Change your perception of aging (and of yourself). This view affects how you behave in later life and how you actually age. If you think aging people are lousy drivers, you may start to limit your own driving (and other activities), even if you’re still a good driver. To combat the negative perceptions or self-doubts about getting older, write down your story—the way it is now, then the way you’d like the story to play out. It’s a powerful tool to have a positive story about your own aging. You can build on your accomplishments, too. If you’re a retired accountant, help a small business with its books. A skilled watercolorist? Teach a class and inspire others.

Staying positive, active, and engaged can make later life as joyful and productive as any other stage. It will also keep you more vital, no matter what the date on your driver’s license says.

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