A few weeks ago I attended an institute in Massachusetts and heard Margie E. Lachman, a professor at Brandeis University and Chair of the Department of Psychology & Lifespan Lab there, speak about cognitive and physical changes as we grow older. She was very forthright about the bad news, while being optimistic about the good news.
Let's get the bad news over with, shall we? Yes, aging does bring declines in both physical and cognitive health. But the good news is that you can increase protective factors which will minimize or even compensate for the declines.
The factors which protect against physical declines are: getting a good education; having a high sense of control; reducing stress and anxiety; exercising regularly; receiving social support; not smoking; and maintaining a favorable waist to hip ratio. The factors which protect against cognitive decline are: getting a good education (even if you get it later in life); having a high sense of control; reducing stress and anxiety; exercising regularly; staying socially engaged; and engaging in cognitively stimulating activities. Dr. Lachman pointed out that it is never too early, and never too late, to develop these protective factors.
And there is more good news–psychological health, wisdom and problem-solving ability increase as we get older. Dr. Lachman shared a quote from the Roman statesman and orator Cicero--his advice to Cato on old age, p. 46: “resist old age... fight against it as we would fight against disease... much greater care is due to the mind and soul; for they too, like lamps, grow dim with time unless we keep them supplied with oil.”
For a thorough list of readings and websites on aging topics including health, purposeful aging, work, volunteering, and civic engagement, check out the amazing list from Libraries for the Future here. And, be sure to check out your local library. This list is the stuff that New Year's Resolutions are made of. So, which factors on the list should you (and I) start with?