Promoting well-being in midlife
As my family gathers at the lake to celebrate my father's 60th birthday, I can't help but wonder if I will age as wonderfully as he has managed. According to researchers who examine the aging process, both biology and environment are important in how well a person ages.
Watching my dad take his turn on the stand-up paddleboard, a sport that he has never tried until today, reminds me of the research that says good health and exercise are particularly important once you become middle-aged. Any adult who rates their health as good to excellent is more likely to feel positive about life. The good news about exercise and aging is that we can all make the choice to be more active. Instead of focusing on genetics as our destiny, it makes sense to focus on what we can control.
Along with exercise, there is plenty of fascinating research on the role diet plays in our aging process. The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has multiple studies that document the benefits of increasing whole foods such as fruits and vegetables in our diet. By eating healthy, we can actually keep our bodies younger, healthier, and more vital.
Another great predictor of psychological well-being in midlife is the sense of self-efficacy a person exhibits. This basically examines the belief a person has about his/her ability to handle challenges. Those who are able to go with the flow and have faith in their ability to handle life's changes and obstacles tend to be better off than those who adjust poorly to stress and crisis. In the case of my father, he looks at challenges as opportunities to grow — something that has contributed to his happiness and well-being tremendously.
Developing positive social relationships and a happy marriage are also ways to maintain well-being. Research suggests that having friends are important to people's reports on life satisfaction. In particular, having a positive marriage or partnership is a marker of mental health and is a powerful predictor of happiness. This might seem like common sense, but it is a nice reminder to make friends and family a priority in our day-to-day lives.
As my dad finishes up with his balancing act on the paddleboard, his smile gives me hope in a world full of anti-aging creams and bias. He is the perfect illustration of the research on aging that suggests as we get older our mood actually improves and we get happier.