Healthy lifestyles help us age with dignity

According to the definition provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 years old is the age at which one is considered an older adult. Aging is understood, in a biological sense, as the result of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This means that, as we age, our physical and mental abilities and faculties decline. This process leads to an increased risk of disease and, ultimately, death. However, these changes are neither linear nor uniform, and their link to a person’s age is rather relative, as it is more related to the dietary and physical habits the person has had throughout his or her life.

Notes WHO: We can appreciate greater diversity in what is considered aging. Beyond biological changes, aging is often associated with other life transitions of a productive person in society, such as retiring, moving to more appropriate housing, caring for illness or disease, and the death of friends and partners.

We acknowledge that people age 60 and older make valuable contributions to society as family members, volunteers and active participants in the workforce. Although most older people are in good mental health, many are at risk of developing mental disorders, neurological diseases or substance use problems, in addition to other conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis.

Although the factors that condition the health of an older adult are mainly genetic, their physical and social environment plays a substantial role in how they age. Their environment can affect their routine and consequently, their habits. In other words, their community can determine what kind of habits they can manage, the area in which they live, and how it influences their daily activities. Personal traits such as gender, race and socioeconomic status also play a role.

This is why it’s critical to maintain a healthy lifestyle to make aging a path that can be walked with better physical, mental and emotional health, and so we can continue to make contributions to our communities, notes WHO.

It is important for older adults to have physical spaces and a social environment that allows them to develop socio-affective skills. This means understanding other people, building relationships with peers and stimulating their mental abilities.

An excellent option is to go out into the neighborhood, go shopping, join community groups and volunteer. Activities that enhance social skills and increase daily physical activity, abstaining from tobacco use, also help to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases, improve physical and mental capacity and delay dependence on care.

Maintaining these healthy habits throughout life and following a balanced diet are opportunities for older adults. When we have a healthy diet and habits, we are investing in a better quality of life when we are older.

WHO emphasizes that the availability of safe and accessible public buildings and transportation plays an important role in the development of healthy habits for older adults. It is here where public policies in the service of older adults become relevant, especially in the development of a public health response to aging.

It is important to take into account not only the social and environmental elements associated with aging but also those that can enhance recovery, adaptation and psychosocial growth. It is important to provide public spaces and create policies and programs that protect older adults and ensure their dignified aging and make it easier for them to engage in the activities that are important to them, despite any loss of their faculties.

We are aware that it is a long and difficult road to travel, especially because there are still limiting circumstances and many people with ageist attitudes, which can lead to situations of discrimination and affect the creation of policies and opportunities for older persons to enjoy healthy aging. Nevertheless, allowing everyone to be able to age with dignity and in the best possible health is a cause worth working toward.

This article is from the National Hispanic Council on Aging and part of an ongoing series by the Diverse Elders Coalition, examining different senior demographic groups.

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