The Science of Happy, Healthy Aging

agingFrom Rabbi Richard Address, director of the department of Jewish Family Concerns at the Union for Reform Judaism:

I just came across two very different studies that both againĀ reinforce the power of social networking and relationships as we grow older. These kinds of studies are crucial to how we as a society create meaningful and supportive communities that deal with the aging of our population.
The current issue of Spirituality & Health has a report of a program developed by a Harvard University professor who took a group of older men to a retreat-type setting and had them focus on being present in the moment and not on chronological age. For a week, they lived as if it were 1959, and their hearing, memory, and well-being all improved. (The study is detailed in the recent book Counterclockwise). In a community of mindfulness that focused on beliefs and expectations (and the mind-body connection), their perception of their own age and aging underwent significant adjustment. This was not an anti-aging study; rather, it showed the power of groups and social awareness to change the way we think and feel about physical health as we get old.
Likewise, the new edition of The Journal of Gerontology is all about a major study called the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. This is a longitudinal study of more than 3,000 people between 57 and 85 years old, focusing on their intimate social relationships. The hypothesis was that people with “high-quality intimate social and sexual relationships will age better in terms of health and well-being than those with poor-quality relationships or those who lack social relationships.” The findings seem to reinforce other studies that point to the power and necessity of close personal relationships in healthy and successful aging.
These are the sorts of things we ought to be thinking about as we debate health-care reform and the allocation of resources, increasingly scarce, to an expanding, challenging, and changing older adult community. What do we need to optimize our health and happiness as we grow old?

Category: Expert Opinion

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