What are some characteristics of successful agers?

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would like to think that I am an expert on this topic, solely based upon my own experience and observation, but the conclusions I have drawn are in fact supported by research.  Those who successfully age remain fully engaged with life, no matter what physical limitations the aging process might bring them and bring a sense of optimism and a sense of humor to the journey.  

The successful ager works in some way, whether it be paid employment, volunteer work, or even a hobby that requires some effort.  We are made to work at something, and when we do not, when we sit on our rocking chairs and do nothing, our brains and our bodies stagnate, hastening the aging process. 

The successful ager continues to engage his or her brain with new learning.  Our brains really do crave new knowledge and understanding, releasing "feel good" chemicals that bring us deep satisfaction. If we deprive ourselves of this experience, we are missing out on an important pleasure in life and not reaping the advantage of the plasticity of our brains, which implies that as the aging process will take a great toll on our brains.  The more neural connections we make, the more we have left as various cerebral phenomena associated with the aging process occur. 

The successful ager also spends time with people of all ages, not just with those of his or her own generation. Isolating oneself in a retirement community is a bad idea, I believe, since one never is exposed to new ideas, new arts, or new people. Remaining frozen in time freezes our brains and our senses.  One of the most wonderful things about being a teacher is that I am constantly exposed to younger people, who have so much to share.  I am convinced that this has benefited my own aging process. 

Exercise of some sort is important, too, to have a successful old age.  We now know that exercise promotes better brain functioning and better emotional health, as well as being beneficial to our bodies.  While we are often subject to more physical limitations than younger people, there are many ways to exercise that promote these benefits and minimize risk, stretching, walking, or swimming, for example.  

An optimistic nature and a sense of humor are, I believe, paramount for a good old age.  My father, who lived until the age of 90, was making social plans and telling jokes until the end.  He had something to look forward to every day, and a perspective that allowed him to find humor in life.  If I can do this as I age, I will be ahead of all the grumpy old people I have seen. 

So, I am sixty-three, and those are my guidelines for a successful aging process.  But there is research on this issue, for example, a famous longitudinal study of nuns that I have provided an informational link about.