Active Aging

The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) has identified seven dimensions of wellness which should be considered within the context of the nine principles that make up their active aging model. These nine principles are as follows:

                    1. Populations
                    2. Perceptions
                    3. People
                    4. Programs
                    5. Products
                    6. Promotions
                    7. Places
                    8. Policy
                    9. Potential

Much has been written about the so called “Silver Tsunami” sweeping our country. This refers to the baby boomer generation which is now turning 65 years and older resulting in the graying of our nation. The elderly constitute the fasting growing demographic with about 10,000 new members daily. An estimated one in five Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. What are some of the things to consider in helping this group live life fully and maximize wellness? The ICAA has developed a useful framework upon which to consider the seven different dimensions of wellness.

Dimension:  Emotional

Emotional health and wellbeing has a huge impact on where we fall along the spectrum of illness and wellness. Programs such as peer counseling and stress management, perceptions which combat age discrimination, and policies which enable better access to mental health services for the elderly are all examples of specific initiatives in accord with the nine principles above. Seniors often must contend with significant grief issues which result from cumulative losses stretching over many years. Feeling happy contributes to feeling healthy.

Dimension:  Intellectual/Cognitive

As we age, it is common to have some decline in cognitive function. Any activity which stimulates the brain in creative or intellectual pursuits helps to keep us sharp. Contrary to popular belief, the neuroplasticity of the brain which allows for new neural circuits and pathways to develop continues throughout life. This means you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” Seniors should be encouraged to participate in classes, cultural activities, games and puzzles. It is never too late to learn a new skill or develop a new hobby.

Dimension:  Physical

Remaining physically active is an important component of active aging. This can be done through normal daily activities such as walking to the store, or through specific programs and activities such as exercise classes, or some combination of both. Many places such as senior centers or the YMCA sponsor senior-themed classes and programs to help improve physical fitness. Pool based activities are more friendly to arthritic joints. Tai chi is an excellent way to maintain balance. Proper nutrition and good sleep hygiene are other aspects of physical health that play important roles in maintaining health and wellbeing as we age.

Dimension:  Professional/Vocational

Many seniors continue to work full or part time. Even if you have retired, there are many opportunities to volunteer, tutor, or mentor all of which help people to feel productive and contributing to the greater wellbeing of our communities. Many seniors have accumulated a wealth of experience and wisdom. Sharing this with others provides a healthy sense of fulfillment.

Dimension:  Social

Social isolation contributes to poor health. Participating in clubs, community events, visiting with friends and family, travel are all examples of activities which keep us socially engaged. Social networking through the wonders of modern technology can also foster connection. Programs such as “adopt a grandparent” provide opportunities to reduce isolation and improve social health. There are many opportunities to explore to remain socially engaged. Many communities offer transportation assistance to facilitate this.

Dimension:  Spiritual

According to the ICAA, this describes “living with meaning/purpose in life; exploring beliefs and values that create personal peace and understanding.” While faith based and religious pursuits are one way to participate in this spiritual dimension, other activities such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, or communing with nature offer other possibilities. I like to think of this as connecting with the infinite. Making this connection is an important way for seniors to support this dimension of their health.

Dimension:  Environmental

Living in and spending time in healthy environments are other areas to consider. Having a clean and safe home environment, exposure to natural lighting, fresh air and nature all contribute to health and wellbeing. Walking paths, eco-friendly home products, and meditation gardens are examples of health-enhancing environmental features. There are many specific environmental assistive devices which can benefit seniors who require some extra help.


In addition to resources available from the ICAA that focus on active aging, interested readers should also consider Andrew Weil’s excellent book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being. Following the principles of active aging with particular focus on the seven dimensions of wellness will help ensure health, vigor, and productivity well into the golden years.

Be healthy…

(image credit: pixabay-sasint)