Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Monday, May 1, 2017
Stroll down any greeting card aisle and you're bound to see endless images and jokes about getting older. While witty sayings about gray hair, "senior moments," and the physical changes that come with aging are meant to make us chuckle, it does cast a negative image on getting older. What if aging was associated with positive change and outcomes?
Older Americans Month has been celebrated each May since 1963. A time to honor and recognize the contributions of older Americans, this effort is led by the Administration for Community Living and provides opportunities for communities across the country to learn about, support, and recognize older adults.
While once associated with negative terms, perspectives on aging are changing. Many older Americans are choosing to "Age Out Loud" – pursuing their life goals, interests, and dreams fervently in bold and confident ways. Today, aging is about eliminating outdated perceptions and living the way that suits you best.
There are many people that did not achieve their most notable accomplishments until later in life – and those that continue to do amazing things at ages that can be inspirational to us all.
To name a few:
- Barbara Hillary, a nurse for 55 years, often dreamed of traveling. At age 75, Hillary became the first African American woman to set foot on the North Pole. In 2011, at age 79, she set another first when she stepped onto the South Pole.
- Ernestine Shepherd was formally given the title of World's Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder by Guinness World Records in 2010. She is currently 79 years old and did not even begin working out/lifting weights until she was 56 years of age.
- At age 93, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest ranger on active duty in the entire U.S. National Park Service. Reid Soskin, who began her career as a ranger at age 85, leads tours at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. There, she tells guests about the women who worked in the Richmond Shipyards during World War II, building cargo ships.
- "Iron" nun Madonna Buder, is the oldest person on record to finish an Ironman Triathlon. She finished the triathlon at the age of 82 in 2012. After beginning training at age 55, the Iron Nun has completed 325 triathlons including 46 Ironman Triathlons.
- Nola Ochs completed her college degree in 2007 – at the age of 95 – and went on to complete her Master's degree in 2010 at the age of 98.
Search the Internet and you can find countless stories on inspirational older adults. A group of older adults seeking to perform at the World Hip Hop Championships. Kite surfers. Fashionistas. Scholars. First trip to Burning Man. Synchronized swimming groups. Athletes. Bloggers. Artists. Rapping "grannies." Activists. All older adults living their purpose and dreams.
Aging well is possible and perception of aging can be positive. Words like "wise," "timeless," and "experienced" are descriptors of positive aging.
Studies have shown there are six main characteristic to aging successfully:
- Maintaining a positive or optimistic attitude. People who are more positive and optimistic are more resilient due to their creative, flexible, and open ways of thinking about things. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Let go of worry and practice self-care by managing your stress, laughing, and practicing positive self-talk.
- Stay socially active. Get involved in a cause or interest, pursue a passion, and do something you enjoy each day. Being socially active will help you reduce stress and benefit your mental and physical well-being.
- Live with purpose. Looking beyond yourself through giving to others is a hallmark of people who live with purpose. Consider volunteering in your community and think of ways you can give back. Share a talent or skill with others. Work as a mentor or tutor. Volunteering is a great way to build purpose into your social relationships.
- Eat well. What you eat and how active you are plays a role in how well you age. Strive to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight. Adopt a heart healthy diet and use the My Plate method and recommendations made at www.choosemyplate.gov
- Be physically active. Physical activity is good for your body and your brain – improving reaction times, concentration, and focus. Aim to be physically active a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity three days per week. Make sure you start out slow and do something you enjoy so you'll stick with it.
- Challenge yourself intellectually. Stimulating your brain with new, interesting, and increasingly difficult tasks helps it stay healthy. Try a new hobby, learn something new, take a class, or play brain games.
We are all aging. Every minute you are older than you were a minute ago. By looking past the negative stereotypes and changing your view of aging, you can to look forward to your later years rather than dreading them.
Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes." You can age successfully and lead a productive, inspiring, and fruitful lifelong into your golden years.
University of Illinois Extension Family Life Educators have a program on positive aging titled, "I'm Positive, I'm Aging." To learn more about this program, contact your local Family Life Educator.
Be sure to celebrate and recognize an older adult in your life this month! For more information on Older Americans Month, click here. For information on the 2017 Older Americans Month, "Age Out Loud," click here.