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Understanding successful ageing

Rose Anne Kenny looks at the changing demographics around ageing, why we age, and what is successful ageing.
For most of human history, no more than 4% of the population was over 65 years. But in the last 100 years, a dramatic change has occurred. Records show that since 1840, there’s been a linear increase in life expectancy of about three months per year or five hours a day. And this striking increase in life doesn’t appear to be waning. It’s estimated that half of baby girls born today will live to 100 or beyond. Now, this is attributed to better health care, better awareness of risk factors for common age related diseases, less stress in society, and better, healthier, and cleaner environments. Although, this doesn’t entirely explain the added life span.
But the consequences of the dramatic extension are most apparent in the expected increase in the proportion of people over 75 years. And that projected increase in global populations between the year 2005 and 2030 indicates that the 0 to 64 age group will increase by 15, and the 65-plus age group by 100. And the proportion of those 85 and over, by 150, and the number of centenarians by 450%. So these changes in population densities are not only due to extended lifespan, but also to the reduction in the total fertility worldwide, even in least developed countries. On average, a male in Western countries can expect to live to 77, and a female to 83. Although the gender gap is narrowing.
So this means that if you’re 65 today, you can expect to live a further 19 years if you’re a male, and a further 22 years if you’re female. And for people who are 75 and 85 respectively, a man can expect to live a further 13 and 9 years, and a woman 15 and 10 years, respectively. So why do we age? Ageing is a closely orchestrated process, orchestrated by wear, tear, and repair systems in ourselves. The cells get their energy, their lifeline, from food and from the air that we breathe.
And this process results in toxic byproducts, which healthy cells quickly dispose of. We’re familiar with the term free radicals. Free radicals are toxic byproducts of metabolism in the cell. And they are efficiently disposed of so that the cell can continue to metabolise food and doesn’t accumulate toxins. Oxidative stress is the burden put on the cell in its efforts to dispose of any toxic byproducts from metabolism. Our ability to repair cellular wear and tear depends on how well we manage oxidative stress. This is the process that’s central to ageing. Many species are very long-lived and form the basis of active research in this particular area.
Because if we can understand the underlying processes which explain why some species live for a long time, then we might better understand human cell ageing, and maybe, develop systems to modify cell aging. Some of the longest-lived animals include the red sea urchin, which lives up to 200 years, the Antarctic sponge, whose oldest known specimens are 1,550 years old. Both of these immobile creatures are characterised by extremely slow growth. We know that tortoises are the longest lived vertebrates on Earth. And a really good example of this is Harriet, the Galapagos tortoise, who died of heart failure, aged 175, in June 2006, at a zoo run by the late Steve Irwin in Brisbane.
Harriet was considered the longest living representative of Darwin’s epic voyage on HMS Beagle. Many of these long living organisms share one common modification in metabolic pathways, and that is resistance to oxidative stress, and therefore, a significant delay in the cell damage process. So managing oxidative stress significantly delays cell damage and slows ageing, thereby postponing age related diseases. So how can we extend a healthy life span? Woody Allen joked, “You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100,” or maybe he wasn’t joking.
However, what we’re finding through ageing research is that successful ageing relies on three main components; managing your health, staying involved with your community, and focusing on personal development as you age. This definition of ageing is focused on inputs, rather than outputs. In other words, successful ageing is about the choices you are making to stay healthy, how you contribute to the world around you, and how you develop your own skills and abilities at every age. Our behaviours are the single most important factor in how we age. The diversity of ageing experiences is largely due to the choices we make, along with the physical and social environments we find ourselves in.
So over the next five weeks, this course will provide you with tips and strategies for advancing a healthy, successful ageing experience. Enjoy.

In this video, we looked at three key points:

  • The changing demographics around ageing
  • Why we age
  • What is successful ageing

These three points are important when thinking about getting older, and this course focuses on the final element of those three points – successful ageing.

What are the proven core components of successful ageing?

This definition of successful ageing is focused on inputs rather than outputs. In other words, successful ageing is about the choices you are making to stay healthy, contribute to the world around you, and develop your own skills and abilities – at every age.

Our behaviours are the single-most important factor in how we age. The diversity of ageing experiences is largely due to the choices we make, along with the physical and social environments we find ourselves in.

Throughout the five weeks of this course, we will continually return to these core components which promote successful ageing.

What to do next?

To get the most from this online learning experience, please read the Comments at the bottom of each step, and share how you are advancing a successful ageing experience. Given the multitude and diversity of learners in this course, it is inevitable that you will learn a lot from one another.

So, for this step, think about the video that you have just seen with regard to the three main components of successfully ageing outlined.

How well do you believe you currently:

  1. Manage your health?
  2. Stay involved in your community?
  3. Develop your personal skills, talents or abilities?

Please leave a comment below (and read and “like” the comments of the other learners).

Then, when you have completed this step, click on the ‘Mark as Complete’ pink circle on the right-hand side below. Then click on ‘Next’ to bring you to the next step in the course.

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Strategies for Successful Ageing

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