This is a vintage fruit crate label and has nothing to do with the content of the blog. I just am aware of these as an art form from the past.
There is a stigma about aging in our society. The elderly are often expected to follow a particular pattern of behavior and these behaviors are accepted. Perhaps our perceptions are built from stories in the media, personal experience, or cultural norms. When we think of grandpa or grandma in their late years, movies have helped us envision the little old man feeding pigeons at the park, grandma sitting on the front porch in her rocking chair playing a crossword puzzle, or both heading out to the weekly bingo game. Does growing old mean we have to fall into a particular, expected pattern of activity or inactivity? Are the typical, expected behaviors healthy for the elderly? Can the aged still make meaningful contributions to society?
I recently visited with Dianna Smith, a sixty-seven year old woman who has been retired for three years and recently lost both of her elderly parents. Smith shared her thoughts on aging from her personal experience and offered some advice to others.
According to Smith, “There seems to be a general perception amongst young adults and the elderly that once you grow older, you no longer have to contribute to society, you don’t really have to do anything, you have reached the point where you can relax and just be taken care of.”
Is this all that there is when we get older? Smith says “No, absolutely not!” Her motto is “live until you die.” She believes that staying active is the most important thing you can do as you age. In fact, research suggests physical activity contributes to the reduction of psychological distress among the elderly because it promotes psychosocial interaction, improves self-esteem, helps in the maintenance and improvement of cognitive functions, and serves to reduce the frequency of relapses of depression and anxiety (Stella, 2002).
When it comes to aging and staying active, first consider taking on new challenges. “You have spent your life learning who you are, finding your interests, and perfecting your skills. Growing older does not mean you have to leave those things behind. Rather, find new challenges that relate to your interests and skills,” said Smith. For example, Smith started learning to play the violin at age fifty-seven. “The social norm seems to be that learning to play the violin from scratch is not within a retired person’s scope of activity or ability. It is reserved for young children,” said Smith. However, at the age of sixty-seven, Smith now plays with string ensembles and symphony orchestras. In fact, playing the violin has opened up new opportunities and experiences such as accompanying a string ensemble to Ireland where they played at numerous sites. She was able to visit a different culture and meet new people because of her desire to accept new challenges and interests.
Second, as we age, we may become limited in the extent of activities we can perform due to physical or mental constraints; however, we can still adapt to the changes that occur with aging. Perhaps you used to enjoy jogging, but can no longer handle the stress on your knees. Adapt and start walking. If you can no longer walk, try riding a stationary bicycle. There are always alternatives.
Finally, get involved and form new social networks. As we progress through life, we find friends through work, church, or family. As we age, these groups can change. Our family and friends pass on or our church members move away. It is important to accept invitations to new social groups for support and longevity. Staying socially active helps relieve stress while also building new supportive relationships.
Overall, Smith believes that staying active physically, socially, and spiritually helps us live a longer, more productive life. You can still contribute to society and also find enlightenment through your experiences as an older adult. After our discussion, I was reminded of a quote authored by Stephen King used in his movie, Shawshank Redemption. In this movie one of the lead characters is released from prison at an elderly age. After coping with the stress of life in the free world as an older man, he must make a decision. “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Aging is a part of life. It is up to each of us to decide how we want to approach aging. Staying active physically, socially, and spiritually can actually make you healthier and prolong your life. If you are living longer and healthier, then the next question might be when do you actually consider yourself old? As for Mrs. Smith, she is going to continue to stay active taking on new challenges, finding new physical activities she can perform, and meeting new groups of people. She will continue to “live until she dies.”
Our Guest Blogger is Mark Scott, M.B.A., C.P.M., Director, Texas AHEC East-Piney Woods Region
Join us for a real-time discussion about questions raised by this essay on Wednesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: http://tinyurl.com/cjfx9ag.
Mark suggests these questions for the Tuesday discussion:
- What is your outlook on life from an elderly perspective?
- What are common social stigma about the aged?
- Do we have to conform to those accepted behaviors?
- What other activities can we do or adapt to as we age?
Stella, F., Gobbi, S., Corazza, D., & Costa, J. (2002). Depressa˜o no idoso: Diagno´stico, tratamento ebenefı´cios da atividade fı´sica. Motriz, 8(3), 91–98.