“Dying young as old as possible.” I can’t remember who said the quote but I first heard about the concept of ageism two years ago while attending a conference. The session was about training the older adult population and the mindset that many mature adults have about the aging process. I heard numerous research, longitudinal studies and clients from their facility about ageism as stereotyping and the potential negative long term consequences.
However you would like to spin it, “you are only as old as you feel” or “age is only a number”, it is kinda true. This is the first of a series on the concept of aging successfully so be on the look out for the next one in the future! If you want to age successfully then I suggest you read on.
What is Ageism?
The concept of ageism was developed around 1970. Ageism is defined as stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination toward people on the basis of age.(1) For our purposes we will be viewing ageism through the eyes of health and fitness.
Why is Ageism important?
Researches evaluated 63 studies for ageism outcomes and the most common reported category was attitude.(1) How many times have you heard, “it is just a part of aging, what are you going to do about it.” It’s this attitude that is more likely to become dependent and disabled. There is a disability threshold that happens during the aging process. Being able to maintain independence and prevent disability pushes back that threshold. The further back the threshold is pushed allows for more successful aging.
Combating this attitude outcome of ageism is a fundamental step in healthy aging. Ageism contributes to the well being of older adults and is linked to poor functional health, poor mental health and slower recovery from illness.
The Big Myth of Ageism
By definition ageism does not define a chronological age or a specific disease or condition.(2) There is no typical old person. There is great diversity in the older adult population. The physical and mental capabilities of a 70 or 80 year old can compare with a 20 or 30 year old. Conversely, some individuals of the same age may require extra effort and care for activities of daily living (ADLs). The ability to carry about ADLs, such as eating, dressing and washing may become cumbersome with age.
What Indicates Good Health?
Good health in older age is not just the absence of disease. “Aging, even in the absence of chronic disease, is associated with a variety of biological changes that can contribute to decreases in skeletal muscle mass, strength and function. Such losses decrease physiological resilience and increase vulnerability to catastrophic events,” says author Maren Fragala, PhD.(3) We’ll cover the physiological and biological changes that happen to the body in future posts. Spoiler alert, exercise and physical activity have something to do with it. The take away is that we shouldn’t just look at being in good health as disease and/or conditions but rather if you have the ability to carry out a specific task.
Most people over the age of 70 experience a number of health conditions at the same time, but continue to be able to do the things that are important to them. These important things can be ADLs, spending time with family or other hobbies like golf and tennis. All of these have an effect on both the physical and mental wellness of an individual. The combination of a person’s physical and mental capacities (known as intrinsic capacity) is a better predictor of their health and well-being than the presence or absence of disease.
The most important key is aging successfully is your attitude on aging. There is no typical old person. The goal of aging should be “Dying young as old as possible.”
- “10 facts on ageing and health.” (2017). WHO. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/ageing/en/. Accessed on 12 February 2020.
- “Fact file: Misconceptions on ageing and health.” WHO. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/ageing/features/misconceptions/en/. Accessed on 12 February 2020.
- Fragala, MS, et al. (2019). “Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement From the National Strength and Conditioning Association.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(8), 2019-2052.