9/30/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Seniors Guide writer Terri Jones ponders aging gracefully. How can we incorporate the challenges of growing old into a life stage of purpose and satisfaction?

The running joke is if you get a facelift or hair transplant – in other words, try to look or act younger than you are – you aren’t aging gracefully. However, growing old gracefully is more about what you do than what you don’t do.

Some people push past physical challenges to play sports, hike, and travel. Still others eagerly take up new hobbies or learn new skills without being held back by their age. And then there are those who choose to replace the purpose they derived from their work life and raising kids with volunteer gigs, caregiving of older parents or grandchildren, or even pursuing second careers.

Bottom line, aging gracefully is about not buying into negative stereotypes. It’s accepting the process of growing older – warts and all – and moving forward. No looking back!

The facts on aging gracefully

Adding years to your life

older woman with horse. Photo by Halina Valiushka, Dreamstime. Seniors Guide ponders aging gracefully: How can we incorporate the challenges of growing old into a life stage of purpose and satisfaction?

“The people who do the best with aging aren’t thinking that much about getting older,” says Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “They’re not really focusing on what’s not working anymore. If you sit around mulling over the meaning of existence and how time is running out, you’re building in a scenario where you’re not going to age as successfully.”

In fact, a study published in JAMA Network Open found that the seniors who were the most content with growing older had a 43% lower chance of dying as well as a reduced risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. They also had better cognitive function. You can probably chalk up their lower incidence of disease challenges and longevity to the fact that these more positive seniors have healthier lifestyles. In other words, if you love your life, you do everything possible to extend it.

The reverse is also true. When seniors view aging negatively, they may have a “what’s the use?” attitude when it comes to exercise, eating right, etc. And this neglect of their health can have dire consequences down the road.

Rolling with the punches

Man in the mountains. Shot in Helderberg Mountains Nature Reserve, near Somerset West/Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. By Photosky, Dreamstime. Seniors Guide ponders aging gracefully: How can we incorporate the challenges of growing old into a life stage of purpose and satisfaction?

With age comes a multitude of changes and challenges. Maybe you can’t run anymore, or those eight-hour fishing trips are just too exhausting nowadays. Perhaps your kids have noticed that your driving skills aren’t what they used to be.

Aging gracefully means accepting these limitations and making adjustments, like walking instead of running or limiting your driving to places close to home or finding alternative means of transportation. The challenges aren’t the end of the world, just a new way of doing things.

Related: Transportation alternatives when driving isn’t an option

For aging gracefully, a person “needs to anticipate the changes that are inevitable,” explains Illinois psychologist Mark Frazier, Psy.D. “People who think rigidly do not do that. As they encounter the natural changes and health status that are part of aging, these things are experienced as negative and adding a lot of stress and strain to their life.”

Rising to the occasion

Every stage of life has its own challenges. In your teen years, you were hormonal and insecure. Your 20s and 30s were spent trying to find yourself, and midlife may have been fraught with crises. Your senior years are certainly no different.

“Old age is no place for sissies,” said actress Bette Davis. It’s the way that you handle those challenges, changes, and compromises that makes all the difference in aging gracefully or not.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones