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Thrive over 55
How to live well through the golden years
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By Karen Kyliuk
May/June 2019

Is there a secret to healthy aging and living well in our later years?

Have you ever heard people say "I only want a long life if I am happy and healthy?"

Of course, there are a number of changes and transitions that can be expected during our later years, such as retirement, adult children moving out, perhaps some physical limitations or mental health problems. There can also be losses such as reduced income, loss of identity and roles, or a shrinking circle of friends. So how do some older adults flourish in spite of these changes and challenges?

In fact, there are many ways to maintain and promote mental health and well-being, so that life can continue to be enjoyable and meaningful as we age.

Studies have shown that there are some common characteristics noticed in people who report living well and being content in their later years. For example, having at least one valued relationship, having a positive outlook on life, participating in enjoyable activities, and having a sense of purpose are all key factors. Researchers also found that older adults who have a spiritual belief system or religious practice report greater life satisfaction, meaning in life and stronger resilience.

As for any age, relationships are essential to our well-being. However, for older adults, this aspect of wellness may come with particular challenges such as when people are unable to leave their homes due to limited mobility, poor access to transportation, or even inclement weather. Social isolation and loneliness for older adults has been linked to increased risk of developing mental health issues such as depression, substance-related problems, and is associated with decreased longevity.

Social isolation and loneliness, in fact, are two different issues. Someone may be in a room surrounded by people but still feel lonely because they lack meaningful connection. Social isolation, however, means not having interaction with other people - whether it is by choice because the person does not want to, or because of circumstance, such as when they cannot get outside because of barriers.

Even when researchers controlled for income, age, gender, and existing health conditions, they concluded that the absence or presence of social support has a significant effect on our health and overall well-being.

There are a number of innovative programs that allow people to stay socially connected. One example is the Senior Centre Without Walls concept, which is found across North America. This type of program is a free teleconference-based program for older adults 55-plus and is available in Manitoba. It supports meaningful interaction between people and helps reduce social isolation through group conversations over the phone that are engaging and fun, such as talking about current events, culture or other topics of interest.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, and the use of technology to engage in face to face video chats can also be mechanisms for older adults to connect with people in their lives; especially grandchildren and other family members.

Being connected and having meaningful activities can enhance our sense of self-worth and perceived quality of life. After retirement, many people find that having free time or even a more flexible schedule allows new opportunities to engage in an old or new hobby or interest. There are a variety of local agencies and clubs that offer low-cost lectures, classes, special interest groups and travel opportunities. Discovering something new challenges the mind and stimulates creativity while making life more interesting.

Another strategy to living well is choosing to focus on the positive aspects of aging and maintaining a sense of optimism. In our later years there are benefits such as freedom from the pressure of schedules, time to explore new opportunities and experiences, and decreased family responsibilities as adult children establish their own households. Focusing on the positives and starting a practice of gratitude improves psychological wellness by lifting our mood and increasing life satisfaction.

Photo of a man with his grandchildren

Aging is inevitable; if we are fortunate, we will grow old. The key to healthy aging is to do things today that will support overall health and well-being for years to come. Living life to the full is something we all want, at any age; so remember to nourish your mind, body and spirit and enjoy life more.

Taking steps toward being more mentally healthy as we age is an important part of a wellness plan. Here are five tips highlighted in the WRHA Mental Health Promotion Thrive Over 55 campaign to take care of your mind, body, and spirit:

Discover

Explore one new thing you want to learn, such as a hobby you have always wanted to try or a skill you would like to develop. Challenging your mind provides intellectual stimulation, increases concentration, and supports optimal brain health.

Get up and go

Try to participate in some form of physical activity each and every day such as walking or stretching. Visit your local community centre to find out what activities they offer for older adults. Being physically active maintains muscle and bone strength, improves balance, and enhances mood.

Share your gifts

Think about ways that you can support others in your community; perhaps helping a neighbour, mentoring a young person or by volunteering. Contributing and sharing your skills, talents, and abilities benefits the recipient and adds meaning and purpose to your own life.

Reflect

Find a moment to sit down and recall good memories, go through an old photo album, write down a time in your life that was special, and then call someone to re-connect with and talk about the time you shared together. Remembering past memories that are pleasant helps to rekindle the positive feelings associated with those moments, places, or people and also helps people to embrace the changes or transitions that have taken place.

Gratitude

Before bed, reflect on the good things that have happened in your day. Write down three good things and what you are thankful for, perhaps your pet, garden, children, or a friend you enjoy spending time with. Practicing gratitude increases positive thinking, boosts our immune system, and promotes better sleep.

Karen L. Kyliuk is a mental health resource and education facilitator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column, originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of Wave, has been updated.

FYI

For more information and programs for people 55 years plus, please visit:

WRHA Support Services to Seniors
www.wrha.mb.ca/community/seniors/index.php

Senior Centre Without Walls
www.aosupportservices.ca/our-three-pillars/social-engagement/senior-centre-without-walls/

For more tips on hnow to boost your mental health and well-being, click here or visit:
www.wellbeingguide.ca