(and it’s not as simple as eating well and working out)
“The whole of a person’s life affects how healthy they are when they become old,” says researcher Professor Christina Stephens.
“Your life before 55 really will predict most strongly how old you are when you’re older.”
Professor Stephens is on the Massey University’s Health and Ageing Research Team which has found health and well-being with age was also by their environment.
The New Zealand Health, Work and Retirement Longitudinal Study, found people were more likely to age with good physical, mental and social health if they also had greater economic wellbeing, satisfying and higher-status work, home ownership, and housing satisfaction.
Older people with poor physical, mental and social health were more likely to be experiencing economic, employment, housing and care problems. They were more likely to be in situations that could worsen poor health, and were more likely to have high healthcare needs in the future.
For others it can be a different picture, with housing and poverty posing a major challenge.
“If a person does not own their own home by the time they retire, the ability to maintain access to affordable housing throughout their retirement can be harder.”
For 82-year-old Helen Place, the philosophy to ageing well is the “blessing” of family and the enjoyment grandchildren bring.
“It’s having a range of different interests, a range of different friends, keeping up with activities, and finding where you’re happiest.”
Place, who lives in Auckland, says ageing is inevitable, but that’s not stopping her from enjoying good food and a glass of wine .
Learning Italian and reading detective novels exercised her mind. Place subscribes to the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, belongs to the Dante Alighieri Society of Auckland, takes part in Nordic walking, and walks with the Golden Oldies.
But for all of her activity and activities, she admits feeling a bit of stiffness and less flexible. Some years ago, Place spent three months in hospital with bowel cancer and had a bad reaction to chemotherapy. It took two years to walk properly again, as her balance was not very good.
“I’m still waiting to see if it hits me in my mid-eighties. You don’t feel any different inside than you ever were your entire life, but you’re not caught running around the block any more.”
Place doesn’t drive as far as she used to, nor when it’s dark or wet. Jobs like climbing ladders and changing light bulbs are left to others. She acknowledged that loss was a challenging aspect of growing old. Her partner died of cancer about 18 years ago. “You think you’re going to have many years with your soulmate, and it does not happen,” she says. “It means you have a lot of living to do afterwards.”
Losing friends has also been difficult. Some have moved away, have “suffered the good old fall” or developed dementia.
Place said the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown emphasised the importance of casual social encounters.
“You can’t hire a good friend.”
Place said she saw her genetic heritage as being one of the key factors to ageing well.
Poor health and losing the ability to drive were significant losses for those growing older.
“That’s when I think it hits.”
Do you have some ageing well tips? We’d love you to share with others!