The Journey of Optimal Aging

A close up selfie of three senior women.

Our culture puts a lot of focus on success. Successful careers, relationships, investments, what have you—if you want to make the most out of life, the belief goes, you should strive for success in everything you do.

But there’s one thing the concept of success isn’t usually applied to, and that’s aging. Yes, there’s a lot of talk about longevity—the longer we live, the more successful we are. But the focus on longevity is more of a focus on the destination, rather than the journey. The late John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That’s a great reminder to focus aging the best we can, right now, while we’re on the journey.

Thriving “in spite of”

This approach is often called “optimal aging.” “Optimal aging is the capacity to function across many domains—physical function, cognition, emotional, social, spiritual—to one’s satisfaction and in spite of one’s medical conditions,” says Kate Granigan, the CEO of LifeCare Advocates.

That “in spite of” is very important. Someone might not think of living with heart disease as “aging successfully,” but they can certainly do what they can to live optimally, or in the best manner possible, in spite of their disease. How to do that will sound familiar. Optimal aging encompasses health and nutrition, mindset, self-care/safety, physical activity, and social engagement.

Ideally, Granigan notes, optimal aging comes from a mindset that “allows people to flourish physically, socially, and emotionally from birth to death in compassionate intergenerational communities.”

Changing how we feel about aging

This view of aging transforms the way we understand and approach the aging process. “Our society tries to avoid aging and looking old,” notes Granigan. “We can start by changing how we feel about aging.” Instead of fear and unnecessary suffering related to aging, people of all ages can benefit from inter-connectedness, access to information, and resources.

“Aging is an opportunity,” says Granigan. It’s an opportunity to move away from the traditional myths of aging (weakness and frailty; senility; isolation) and to understand that each of us has the power to make the most of our aging process (our lives) every day.