Vital Aging Network

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What is Vital Aging?

“Life is a promise. Fulfill it.”

—Mother Theresa

Vital aging is a lifelong process of achieving individual potential and engaging with others to meet the needs of all. The Vital Aging Network’s particular focus is on the latter half of life. Older people can be a significant force in shaping a new societal vision of healthy, fulfilling lives connected in vital communities.

As the baby boomers reach their 60s, the nation is experiencing dramatic shifts in attitudes about aging. Healthy, active, young-old adults are growing in numbers and influence. For many of you, these years will be the best of your life, when the opportunities for rich experiences outweigh the challenges of coping with decline. Many will find unique opportunities for self-actualization, seeking and finding meaning and balance, and finding that you can enrich your own life through contributing to others.

VAN supports vital aging:

  • By linking you to opportunities for productive and meaningful activities that match your interests and the needs of your community; and
  • By providing forums where you, other individuals, and organizations can work collaboratively to support self-sufficiency, community participation, and quality of life for and with older adults.

Keys to Vital Aging

Of course, you will lose some physical capacity as you age, but exercise—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—offers you the power to stave off decline and create new possibilities for growth. Here is what some experts say are elements of vital aging. Their repeated message is "Use it or lose it!

  • John Rowe, M.D. and Robert Kahn, Ph.D., authors of the MacArthur Foundation's Study Successful Aging, have found that lifestyle accounts for 75% of healthy aging. Risk factors such as high blood pressure, weight, and diabetes diminish your health, and friendships reinforce it.
  • Ed Creagan, author of Mayo Clinic on Healthy Aging: Answers to Help You Make the Most of the Rest of Your Life, emphasizes the importance of taking into account your body, mind, spirit, finances, health care, relationships, and independence as you grow older. The most important factor, Dr. Creagan says, is exercise. The second is friendships.
  • Ellen Langer, author of Mindfulness, found that residents of nursing homes felt useful, and therefore, better about themselves when the homes assigned them daily responsibilities. They also had fewer health problems and lived longer than those who received care passively and had no daily assignments.
  • Doug Powell, author of The Nine Myths of Aging: Maximizing the Quality of Later Life, describes the losses that one may expect in later life but also suggests a strategy for maximizing its potential. He uses the pianist, Arthur Rubinstein as his model for explaining the strategy: 1) focus on a few things that you like to do and do well, 2) maximize your strengths and skills, and 3) compensate for loss. Rubinstein passed away after his last concert, at the age of 93. He had continued to fill the concert houses because he: 1) focused on a few compositions that he played well and audiences enjoyed, 2) practiced them every day, and 3) played the slow parts slower so that he could play the fast parts slower as well.

Page Author: Jan Hively

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