Americans over 60 are feeling more empowered and optimistic than ever before, according to the results of this year's United States of Aging Survey, conducted by the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Older adults are setting more ambitious health goals for themselves and are actively taking steps to exercise more frequently—two actions that indicate these individuals have a positive future outlook. In the span of just one year, the proportion of older Americans who reported exercising every day increased from 26 to 37 percent.
It is no secret that regular exercise yields a multitude of physical benefits, but there are also powerful mental effects that can result from adopting a consistent workout routine. Adults who reported exercising every day were twice as likely to describe the past year of their life as "better than normal," compared to those who never exercised, says the NCOA.
The simple act of goal-setting also appears to have a significant influence on attitude and behavior. Fifty-three percent of older adults reported setting health-related objectives this year—pursuing healthier eating habits, losing weight and being more physically active. As a result, these individuals were more than twice as likely to believe that their quality of life would improve, compared to those who did not set benchmarks for their health. People who set goals were also more than three times as likely to think that their health would get better in the coming years.
What's behind older Americans' increasingly active approach to healthy aging?
There are several potential underlying incentives. While many of the survey respondents acknowledged their spouses and adult children as influential motivators (26 percent and 15 percent, respectively), a whopping 39 percent claimed that they are intrinsically motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This uptick in taking personal responsibility for making wholesome choices is especially important since the majority of aging adults plan to remain in their homes for the rest of their lives.
Older adults' top three worries for the future were "not being able to take care of myself," "losing my memory," and "being a burden." Despite these uncertainties, there is still extraordinary confidence. Eighty-five percent of aging Americans feel that they are adequately prepared for impending changes in their health.
Another major area of concern for aging adults is whether they will be able to maintain their independence. More than half of those polled by the NCOA (53 percent) would prefer to be self-sufficient through their final years. Sadly, aging-in-place may not be a feasible option for many Americans.
An appropriate mix of realism and self-assurance is crucial for graceful aging.
It may be challenging to rally at times, but assuming a passive approach to your well-being (at any age) can quickly compound health problems and perpetuate dangerous feelings of helplessness. By contrast, taking charge of your health will provide additional peace of mind that cannot be found elsewhere.
It is important to recognize that we are each individually responsible for making the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve the existence we want. Don't be discouraged by things such as age or disability. Start slow and ask for assistance in reaching your health goals.
As C.S. Lewis once said, "you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." Envision the kind of life you want and go get it!