You have more power over aging than you think. Here’s the proof.
Aches and pains, sorrows and losses—getting older isn’t always a laugh a minute. But blowing past retirement age comes with a lot of benefits too. Besides, does anybody really want to be a teenager again?
Studies show that embracing those birthdays is good for you. Seniors with a good attitude about growing older are better at handling stress, enjoy better physical and mental health, and even live longer.
“But it’s not just about living to be 100,” says Lewina Lee, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. “It’s about being healthy physically and mentally. And optimism and a positive attitude are important parts of that.”
That’s a message we heard loud and clear from the SilverSneakers Facebook community when we asked this: “What’s your favorite part of being a senior citizen?”
Many of you chimed in, and responses were overwhelmingly positive. Deb Gardner summed it all up when she said that she’s “feeling like life has just begun!”
By your 60s, you’ve learned firsthand about the curveballs that life can throw your way. But despite everything, you’ve inspired us by embracing life with enthusiasm and joy. You’ve taught us a ton about optimism and persistence and the achievement of building a good life.
Here’s what we’ve learned from you. For us, it’s proof that growing older can definitely mean getting better.
Lesson #1: Time Means Something Different (and That’s a Good Thing)
One of the best things about getting older? The chance to slow down and savor life, saying so long to the frantic pace of working and raising a family. Again and again, you told us how much you’ve loved easing into a lifestyle that’s still active—but is filled with things you really enjoy, with time to focus on you.
Kim Barcus Herder is one who loves the slower pace of time, especially “being able to do the things I want to do and not what I have to do. I love keeping very busy but not punching a clock to sell my time.”
For Bonita Hudson, the gift of time can mean the simple joy of a snooze in the middle of the day. And Nancy Spindler Gooding notes, “because I’ve had cancer three times already, I know how precious time is.”
Speaking of time, most of you are happy to toss the clock completely. Jeanne Haave loves “not having to use an alarm clock. I sleep until I wake up, or until the puppy whines to go outside—better than the alarm!”
In fact, you’re so wrapped up in living life by your own rules that you may lose track of time altogether. Valerie Christensen, for example, has tossed her calendar: “I look at the paper to see what day it is.”
Lesson #2: Self-Concern Gives Way to Focusing on Family and Friends
The most popular reason for loving life as a senior? “Grandchildren!”
Ken Brasier is one who puts his young crew on his large list of plans. On his retirement bucket list: planning to “walk the Appalachian trail, bicycle across the U.S., and spend time with my grandson.”
Being with the little ones is a joy, but it can be just as satisfying to know that you’re helping out. “I’m able to be there for the people I love,” says Dawn Gorman. “We’ve had a lot of big events to celebrate and some serious emergencies where our ability to help was the best gift we could give.”
Janice Burrum Sensing agrees. “I love being available to help my family and make their lives a bit easier,” she says.
All that helping? Turns out it’s good for you. In a recent study, women who spent one day a week caring for their grandchildren performed best on tests of mental sharpness. And caring for the little ones can even add years to your life, according to a Swiss study.
Lesson #3: There’s No Age Limit to Learning
You’re never too old to master new skills. Just ask Stephen Allerton, who’s taken up playing the banjo. For Nancy Spindler Gooding, being a senior citizen means “time to pursue writing without interruption.” Jaki Reed loves taking classes, and Patricia Grant is learning how to swim.
You showed us you’re curious and totally immersed in lifelong learning. “There are always new ways to develop and strengthen my mind, body, and spirit,” says La Geo.
Scientists say she’s on the right track. According to a study at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, older adults who learn a new, mentally demanding skill improve their cognitive function. The trick, researchers say, is you have to try tackling a brand-new skill, and you have to work hard to see results.
Want to get even sharper? Try learning a couple of new things at once, say researchers at the University of California, Riverside. In their study, senior citizens who spent just six weeks learning multiple skills increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those of folks 30 years younger.
If you’ve wanted to try yoga or Zumba, now’s a great time. SilverSneakers LIVE makes it easy with online classes designed for older adults and led by instructors trained in senior fitness.
Lesson #4: Wisdom Really Does Come with Age
Many of you reported that you appreciate the wisdom that you’ve acquired along life’s journey.
What exactly is wisdom? It’s tough to define, but you know it when you see it. Scientists say it emerges from life experience, and plays out as people show a sense of balance, make thoughtful decisions, and act with understanding toward people with different backgrounds and perspectives.
A 2016 study at the University of San Diego confirmed what we’ve all been counting on as we creep up in years: Older adults exhibit more of the hallmarks of wisdom and an increase in measures of mental health.
Judging from your Facebook posts, many of you feel as if you could have written the study. The best thing about getting older, says Kathy Mason, is “learning that I don’t need to worry so much. Learning that if I can fix it, I will, and if I can’t, it’s not my problem. Worry is a terrible waste of a mind.”
Another big part of wisdom is emotional intelligence, and many of you have found that life has smoothed some of the sharp edges and helped you to be kinder and gentler. For Jan Smith, wisdom is all about “my changed attitude, realizing that kind words are sweeter than beauty.”
You know for a fact that life hasn’t always been easy, but you’ve learned a thing or two along the way. For MaryLou Kingston, wisdom means “surviving all the lessons I’ve learned and keeping on moving forward.”
Lesson #5: Giving Back Feels Good
Many of you expressed a profound sense of gratitude: “I’m just happy to wake up every morning!” writes Pat Kraft. And you’re delighted to share some of your time and fortune with others—volunteering is one of the joys of being a senior citizen.
Ellen Dunn King says the best thing about getting older is “being free to volunteer,” such as for an organization that provides aid to people around the world who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, and disease.
Diane Barkelew Wallace says she loves focusing on her own community, “registering people to vote with the League of Women Voters and serving on the Homeless Task Force.”
Sandy Tate-Sisney enjoys having the chance to help others. She loves “serving at my church food bank and growing friendships there, but especially helping others.”
For some of you, the chance to serve takes a more personal turn, and you enjoy sharing your experience with younger people as a mentor. “I love having an opportunity to be an encourager to a younger adult,” says Rose Roman, “as someone was for me when I was younger.”
Lesson #6: Now’s the Time to Live Your Own Truth
After decades of trying to please others, you’ve told us you’re in the happy place of accepting—and liking—yourself just the way you are.
“I love being less concerned about what other people think,” explains Sherrill Conely, “and more concerned about living my life the way I want.” Gale Hetzel is right on board with that. “Other than some aches and pains,” she writes, “I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.”
Many of you told us about the joy and freedom of casting off others’ expectations and being your authentic self. “I’m so happy to accept who I am now,” writes Irene McIntosh. “Not perfect, but that’s okay. My life isn’t controlled by fear of what others think of me anymore.”
These seniors are definitely onto something. The more we accept ourselves, the more likely we are to live fulfilling lives, according to researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in England.
We were glad to see that so many of you have developed that healthy habit. Bette Vettel VonGunten explains that she loves being a senior citizen “because I don’t worry at all about what others think. I’m very grateful for the life lessons, and drinking in this stage of life, enjoying blessings, good health, great friends, great family—and truly (most of the time) being in a state of great peace.”
Take Your Favorite SilverSneakers Classes Online!
SilverSneakers members can access live fitness classes and wellness workshops through SilverSneakers LIVE. See the latest schedule and RSVP for classes here.
Not a member? If you have a Medicare Plan, it may include SilverSneakers—at no additional cost. Check your eligibility instantly here.