4 habits to help you age well and live fully
What makes you happy as you age? For most people, it’s about staying healthy enough to maintain quality of life, live as independently as possible, age well and live fully. For some, it’s about having regular connections with friends and family, and for others it’s about being able to continue with their favourite sport or hobby.
We know that happy people tend to have strong relationships, good physical health and contribute regularly to their communities. The good news is that we can all improve our levels of happiness (at any age), by following these four simple guidelines…
1. Keep that body moving
Whether you love it or hate it, physical activity is a cornerstone of healthy ageing. Scientific evidence suggests that people who exercise regularly not only live longer, but may also live better — meaning that they enjoy more years of life without pain or disability.
A US study of adults aged 40 and older found that taking 8,000 steps or more per day, compared to only taking 4,000 steps, was associated with a 51% lower risk of mortality from all causes.1 And studies on happiness show that people benefit more when they engage in moderate and high-intensity exercise which increases the heart rate.
You can increase the number of steps you take with simple, everyday activities that keep your body moving, such as gardening, walking the dog, swimming, playing golf or bowls, or simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator. HBH Howick Views has an onsite gym with regular exercise classes – or you could consider joining Virtual Village East’s weekly walking group or Safe & Strong exercise programme.
2. Stay connected with others
The most recent happiness research shows that social connections are hugely important in terms of overall wellbeing and life satisfaction. Whether it’s spending time in the company of family or friends, joining a club or social network, or simply chatting to a neighbour over a cuppa, finding opportunities to socialise with others is essential as you age.
In fact, studies show that prolonged loneliness and isolation can be more detrimental to your health than smoking!2 Social isolation and loneliness may also be bad for brain health and have been linked to poorer cognitive function and higher risk for dementia (by 50%), including and especially Alzheimer’s disease.3
But, just as loneliness can easily become a habit, so can creating social connections. One study shows that connecting with others in person can increase happiness levels by 83%, and connecting by phone or virtually can increase joy by 73%. So, if you don’t see family as often as you’d like, try calling them more often or ask your family to teach you how to use Facebook, FaceTime or Zoom.
Being involved in the community has also been shown to increase happiness levels, such as volunteering or being part of a church group. Joining a new club or social network such as Virtual Village East, can provide numerous opportunities for social gatherings, including monthly ‘Coffee and Catch-up’ mornings, informative seminars for seniors, and outings to interesting destinations.
Regular opportunities for connection and companionship are an essential part of the Eden Alternative, a resident-centered philosophy of care that’s central to HBH Senior Living’s high quality aged care. At the heart of the philosophy is the belief that the three major problems of residential care are loneliness, helplessness and boredom, and that these can be overcome by:
- Loving companionship – especially with animals and children (see point 4)
- Providing opportunities for residents to give as well as receive.
- Imbuing life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment where the unexpected and unpredictable can take place.
3. Be grateful, every day
Our outlook on life and how we evaluate things also plays a huge part in our happiness levels. Studies have found that having a more optimistic mindset and practising a sense of gratitude can buffer against negative emotions, improve resilience, and increase happiness.
Practising daily gratitude, such as counting your blessings or listing things throughout the day that you’re grateful for, can help you think more positively and feel happier. You can do this in a number of ways, for example, a daily gratitude journal, which can be handwritten or kept on your phone.
While it might sound like a ‘new age’ idea, there’s plenty of scientific research that shows that practising gratitude is good for both health and happiness. A 2017 study published tracked the levels of gratitude and spiritual well-being amongst 186 men and women with heart damage, and showed that those who admitted to higher levels of gratitude reported better sleep patterns, less inflammation and more frequent periods of happiness.4
‘Three good things’ is a quick and easy habit to adopt – simply write down three things that went well every day and reflect on what was good about these. You can also practice gratitude more naturally by telling someone what you are grateful for that day or sending thank you messages.
However you do it, daily feelings of gratitude are associated with higher levels of positive emotions and better well-being – so keep up those social connections!
4. Spending time with pets helps too
Pets are often part and parcel of family life, but as you age, many people choose not to keep pets, or can’t because they’ve moved into aged care. Yet pets not only offer warm, loving and faithful companionship, they also provide purpose in life – and if the pet is of the canine variety, opportunities for regular fresh air and exercise. Not surprisingly, research shows that dogs motivate their human companions to be more active and in turn, both dog and human have a shared pleasurable experience that boosts their happiness.
What’s more, numerous studies have found that family pets provide many benefits towards health and happiness, reducing incidents of depression and anxiety, while providing companionship and helping to boost our happiness and self-esteem levels.
That’s why, when you visit HBH Senior Living’s aged care villages, you’ll notice a number of pets, both communal and individual, such as dogs, cats or budgies. You’ll also notice volunteers and visitors of all ages, especially at the weekends, because having plenty of people around creates warmth, spirit and opportunities for joy and spontaneity – key ingredients for a happy, healthy and more fulfilled life.