Aging well

Aging well

AgeWith advances in medicine and technology, we are typically living longer than we did 100 years ago. Even as recently as 1960, the average life expectancy in the UK was 71; today it is 81. That’s a lot of life to live and make the most of, and around half of those years may involve being in work.

When we reach our 50s and 60s, we might have made some choices about the work we do. We may be considering retirement, or planning for it. We still have a lot of energy, but also have wisdom and maturity. We may be more comfortable in our skin than we were in our 20s and 30s. Any children may have left home, and we may be more financially stable, giving us more freedom.

I have a lot of clients in this age group. Some are wondering if they want to ‘keep playing the game’, particularly if they are going through yet another round of reorganisation. Yet, those who can afford to give up work might not want to. They still want to use their brain, play a part in society and be part of social networks – work is one way of doing this (and our identity is often closely linked to our work).

“Age only matters if you are a cheese”

We can’t prevent aging, so how do we age well? This article looks at how to make the most of the age we are and the body we’re in.

How can you look after yourself

A friend recommended this research-driven book on the brain: The Changing Mind by neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin. It covers the usual topics that are helpful at any age for our physical and emotional well-being.  These won’t be new to you, but here’s a quick reminder:

Get enough sleep. It is a misconception that we need less sleep as we age. We need the same amount as younger adults – but we tend to get less quality sleep, perhaps due to hormonal changes, or because we’re less active during the day so our brain might be tired but our body isn’t.

Eat a healthy diet. According to the WHO, this includes:

  • Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice).
  • At least 400 g (i.e. five portions) of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other starchy roots.
  • Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars. Free sugars are all sugars added to foods or drinks, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
  • Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado and nuts, and in sunflower, soybean, canola and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard) and trans-fats of all kinds.
  • Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to about one teaspoon) per day. Salt should be iodized.

Exercise, particularly outside. Enjoying nature and the fresh air helps lifts your mood more than running on a treadmill indoors. Also, it uses your brain more, because you are making constant tiny adjustments for different terrains rather than staying on the same smooth surface.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the third leading cause of death in the US. The author says there are five key components to fending it off:

  • A diet rich in vegetables and good fats
  • Taking a regimen of supplements that are individually tailored to your needs (this advice is based on early-stage research by neurologist, Dale Bredesen, which is not yet fully validated)
  • Oxygenating the blood through moderate exercise
  • Brain training exercises (this doesn’t mean Sudoku and Crosswords – they just get you better at doing Sudoku and Crosswords! Studies showing otherwise have been funded by the publishers of those puzzles, some of whom have been prosecuted for making false claims.)
  • Good sleep hygiene – this means having a routine, not looking at electronic devices after a set time, and sleeping in a darkened room with good ventilation

I also read a Times newspaper article about how women can keep healthy as their body goes through its natural changes as they age. Briefly, the advice included: do low-intensity cardio four times per week to work your heart and muscles; lift weights to preserve muscle mass; skip for five minutes per day to strengthen bones and burn calories; stand on one leg whilst brushing your teeth to maintain balance; do yoga or pilates for toning, strength, flexibility and balance; and focus on your breathing (in for a count of four, hold for four, and then out for four) for reducing anxiety. I offer this advice to the men who are reading this too 🙂

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Attributed to Mark Twain and others

Social connectedness

In many parts of the world, we’re increasingly living in an individualistic society where extended family and length of service with an employer is diminishing. People are more likely to live alone and to move around more. This isn’t helping build a feeling of social connectedness.

It can mean being detached from meaningful relationships, feeling unacknowledged or misunderstood, or a lack of intimacy. It’s important to remember that people can be on their own but not lonely, or lonely in a crowded room.

Society often values youth, and it’s easy to be unacknowledged if you’re not jumping on the latest bandwagon, whether that’s culturally or at work (e.g. leadership trends – some come and go, and some come and stay. As we get older, we can feel we’ve “seen it all before” and it’s just been relabelled).

What can you do to ensure you’re connected? To make sure those connections are across a broad spectrum of people – age, personality, culture, experience, views, preferences?  Research shows that as we age, it’s even more important to mix with different age groups, not just our own. It keeps us fresh and engaged, and learning.

To retire, or not to retire, that is the question

The book advises not to stop working because work helps you feel valued, and the social engagement you get will help maintain your brain function. If you do decide to retire, you might keep your brain active and curious by getting work as a Non-Executive Director, going into consultancy, or taking a role as a Trustee of a charity.

Some of us may explore the meaning of life, asking why we are here. From what I’ve read, it’s often about helping to make someone else’s life better – this makes us feel better because altruism gives us happy emotions and purpose.

In modern psychology, virtually all psychologists agree that meaning exists as a concept for humans, that it can be found in the world around us, and that we can create or uncover our own unique sense of meaning as well.

Look at what you’re passionate about and the skills you have. Work out how you can ‘pay it forward’ to another industry or organisation. What would that look like?

if you’re still at work, what are you motivated to do that might be outside your main job responsibilities? For example, be a mentor to a young person who needs the benefit of your experience. How could you leave a bigger mark across the organisation? Could you give your skills to a charity? Could you arrange interview practice to help young people get ready for the world of work?

When you get older, you have more to give, whether that’s money, time or wisdom. Be grateful that you can do this.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw


Around one in five us are experiencing depression at any one time – and this is consistent across the world. There is increasing recognition of the link between our state of mind and happiness, and some of my previous articles have touched on this (with topics including mindfulness, positive psychology, and mindset, among others).

When looking at depression, the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Professor of Psychology at Yale Univserity, distinguished two styles of dealing with it:

Rumination: You repeatedly focus on what went wrong, but this increases stress hormones and interferes with your ability to solve problems, meaning that you’re more likely to stay depressed.

Distraction: You immerse yourself in forward-looking activities that you enjoy. These are so absorbing that they distract you from your unhappiness – this is much better for you.

So, whilst it is important to understand your state of mind and try and work on what is hurting you, one path out is to focus on what you love to do – and do it!  As we age, we may actually feel happier – but may also feel run down with some of the bumps in the road we’ve experienced.  So, keep your mind on how you feel and how you respond.

“It’s important to have a twinkle in your wrinkle.”


Q. Are you in control of your life? Or is someone else?


If you think your life and the course of it is governed by other people, circumstances, events or systems, and you accept your fate, you are less likely to exert yourself and change things. This is described as having an external locus of control. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because you bypass opportunities to change your life.

As you would imagine, someone with an internal locus of control is typically more motivated and driven to make changes.

Another way to look at this is by looking at this Circle of Influence and imagine the inner circle is you, the middle circle is your immediate workmates, friends and family, while the outer circle is the world at large (making it a good idea to ignore much of the news).

I’m certified to use an Emotional Intelligence tool that compares the extent to which you believe you can control yourself and the future course of your life. If you have an intrinsic motivation to (and belief that you can) steer your life, you’ll be happier and more fulfilled, whatever age you are.  It’s never too late to develop this mindset – I’m a believer in life long learning.

“When we were small children, we all played dress-up and everybody had a good time. So why stop?”
Iris Apfel


There are six key points to remember:

  1. Look after your physical and mental wellbeing through sleep, diet and (outdoor) exercise
  2. Maintain meaningful social interactions and relationships
  3. Help others
  4. Be grateful for what you have
  5. Feed your brain, keep working and/or learning by doing absorbing interests you enjoy
  6. Have a sense of control over your life and choices

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”
Walt Disney

Related reading


Next month

Face your flaws, so you don’t fail.