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By Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.
A real comedy standout on TV and in the movies lately - among all the youthful as well as botoxed, lifted, heavily made-up faces - has been Betty White. Lifetime Achievement Award winner at 88 and ½, as Betty proudly declares, White is the poster gal for throwing away the calendar when talking about age.
With the population of older adults growing, the percentage of adults over 65 is projected to increase in the U.S. from the current 12% to 19% in the next twenty years. Given this expected exponential growth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has looked at how baby boomers can achieve healthy aging.
If you‘re interested in ideas about how to age without getting old, here are some tips to get you started, using Betty White as your role model:
1. Cultivate humor in your daily life. Enjoy some belly laughs, even if the joking is aimed at you. Be playful, have fun and do something silly for a change. If you don't have friends with a good sense of humor, watch a comedy show, read the newspaper "funnies," get a book of jokes. The more pleasure you bring into your surroundings, the happier you will feel. You may even increase your lifespan and improve your health according to the National Institute of Aging.
2. Hang out with your peers. You'll find that you have lots of shared memories and can relate to the same music, references and events. Studies show that even though it's heartwarming to spend time with your adult children and grandchildren, active seniors often prefer relating to others in their own cohort. To meet new friends with similar interests, contact your local university or community center for a schedule of their life-long learning opportunities.
3. Find the time to interact with younger friends too. You'll enjoy their different perspectives and the challenges they open up to you. If you share the same interests and hobbies, the fact that you are from different generations is less important than what you can each contribute to one another. When Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live she had fun, the show registered its highest ratings in years and it recharged her career.
4. Work with what you've got to stay in shape. Start slowly, perhaps walking with a friend or exercising on your own. When you're ready, look for a fitness center that has classes for all levels of physical ability - ranging from salsa hi-impact aerobics through belly dancing, stretch classes and water aerobics to chair classes and tai chi for balance. That way you'll be able to challenge you body no matter where you're starting - and have fun in the process. And incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine will help you feel younger.
5. Exercise your brain just as you do your body to keep up mental vitality. The Seattle Longitudinal Study found that two-thirds of older Americans doing brain exercises had significant cognitive improvement. These kinds of mental challenges build new neural pathways that help buffer the brain against age-related losses. Injecting novelty into everyday tasks can have a similar effect.
6. Set goals for yourself and do something meaningful. Research shows that people who are sociable, generous and goal-oriented are generally happier and healthier than other people. Think about what kinds of activities bring you the most satisfaction and plan how you can spend more time doing them. You may want to look for places to volunteer in your community through Senior Corps or America's Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal. Or contact your local school or community center to for opportunities to tutor children. Sharing your wisdom with others will bring a spring into your step and joy into your life.
7. Include others in setting goals for your future. Perhaps this means those close to you - or your reaching out to a wider community. Stay youthful by involving yourself with family, friends and the world at large. Betty White, with her lifelong concern for animals and her work advocating for them, has continued to dedicate herself to animal welfare. Draw on your connections to stay involved with a community as you continue your life.
When growing children are misbehaving, some say, “Act your age.” But it’s more complicated when sandwiched boomers are trying to figure out exactly what that means for them. Is age set by the calendar, by your experiences, by how you look, by how you feel physically? Don’t let others define you. Your real age is a matter of how you think about you life and by your vision of the future.
(c) 2010, Her Mentor Center
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