7 ways to thrive as you get older, according to psychology

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I can honestly say that as the years go by, my life keeps getting better.

Some people may think that at my age, I should be winding down. But I fully intend to make the most of every moment.

With this in mind, I’m constantly striving to find new and proven ways to stay sharp, and on the top of my game.

So what’s the psychology behind thriving as we get older?

Let’s take a look.

1) Become older and wiser

They say as we get older, we tend to get wiser.

It makes sense when you consider we do have a lot more experience and hopefully knowledge to draw from. So in many ways, older minds are fuller.

Drawing from these insights and using them in constructive ways is where we gain wisdom.

But even the idea of “wisdom” can feel vague.

When you break it down, what does that even look and feel like?

One researcher set about answering this question.

As explained by The New York Times:

“True personal wisdom involves five elements, said Professor Staudinger, now a life span psychologist and professor at Columbia University. They are self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities.”

That means, in order to embrace and make the most of our advancing years, it’s going to pay to focus on:

  • Personal development
  • Self-awareness
  • Greater acceptance (of both our circumstances and ourselves)

We can mistakenly think of emotional growth as a young person’s game, but the bottom line is:

You are never too old to progress, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

2) Stay active

We all know that keeping fit has health benefits. But it’s not just about the body, it has just as much to do with the mind too.

As Circle DNA reminds us:

“By keeping fit as we age, we maintain our independence and maintain a higher quality of life. As we age, enjoying our freedom and independence is vital to increasing our overall happiness.”

Memory loss is something that can become problematic as we get older, and exercise may even help combat that as well.

Studies have shown that regular physical activity, even just walking, is crucial for maintaining efficient cognitive function.

Adults over 65 need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of high intensity.

There really aren’t any types of exercise that are off-limits either. Personal trainer Erin Stimac, says it’s about finding something you enjoy and works for you.

“Contrary to common beliefs, there’s no need for older adults to shy away from any specific movements. The fear of injury should not deter them from engaging in strength training. Instead of focusing on limitations, we should explore what movements are suitable for each individual.”

3) Reject any negative nonsense about getting old

Is it just me, or are we all getting younger even as we age?

I think of my grandmother and she seemed like such a matronly figure.

The way she dressed, how she behaved, her whole demeanor really.

These days, I think there is far less of a universally held idea of how you “should” look and act by any certain age.

And that’s a great thing.

But let’s not pretend that we still don’t hold ourselves hostage to preconceived notions. But this sort of psychology could hold us back.

Research has shown that grasping onto stereotypes may create negative self-beliefs that limit us.

One study noted how older learners tended to do worse on memory tasks after being exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory.

At any age, our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us are powerful.

That means banishing for good self-critical phrases like “At my age?” or “I’m too old for…”

Because as we’ll see next, you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks.

4) Collect new experiences

Who says young people have a monopoly on adventure?

If we want to get a kick out of life at any age, we need to seek out new and exhilarating experiences.

Things that trigger our emotions leave the biggest impact on our memory.

As The Univerity of Queensland Brain Institute explains:

“This happens because of the amygdala, which brain imaging studies have shown is activated by emotional events. The amygdala boosts memory encoding by enhancing attention and perception, and can help memory retention by triggering the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to boost arousal.”

Making a bucket list can be a really useful way of exploring things you want to try.

So too can committing to be a lifelong learner. It’s more a state of mind —one that stays curious and open.

That may involve trying new hobbies or pursuing new interests. It could be choosing to give back and volunteer.

The point is, there’s something you’ve always wanted to do or see — there’s no time like the present.

5) Financially plan for the life you want

Let’s not forget that thriving as we get older involves a few practical elements.

Neglecting your finances not only stresses you out, but it’s clearly difficult to live your best life with zero cash in the bank.

It’s a sad fact that millions of aging adults struggle financially.

I’m all about dreaming big, taking bold actions, and embracing opportunities as we age. But I’m equally in favor of getting organized and putting plans in place that will support you as you do it.

That means creating a financial plan and wrapping your head around:

  • Budgeting
  • Expenses
  • Investments
  • Pensions
  • Cash flow goals

There’s an understandably proven link between financial worries and psychological distress. If we want to avoid that, it’s best not to bury our heads in the sand.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and consider all of your options.

For example, like I suspect a lot of people, in the early years of my working life, I couldn’t wait until retirement.

But then it suddenly dawned on me — I don’t ever want to retire. I enjoy having the routine, taxing my brain, and being part of a workplace.

So whilst I may slow down, try out new lines of work, and enjoy more freedom workwise as I age, I’m happy to continue for as long as I can.

It’s all about considering the lifestyle we want and looking for the solutions that will help us achieve it.

6) Keep your brain sharp

As Psychology Today cheerily reminds us:

“It is quite normal to experience forgetfulness, a diminished attention span, mild memory loss, some confusion, impaired judgment, and difficulty in learning new things like mastering a smartphone. These cognitive signs can appear after age 60, and more often after age 70.”

The fact that I spent 20 minutes looking for my handbag this morning is perhaps a testament to this.

Some cognitive decline is to be expected but that doesn’t have to stop us.

The good news is that there is plenty we can do to stay sharp as we age.

So-called brain training games are one of them. That includes puzzles, card games, board games, playing cards, word puzzles, and even video games. 

Essentially it comes down to mental simulation that challenges the brain and encourages problem-solving.

7) Make new friends and stay connected to old ones

It doesn’t just apply to friends of course. The point is that relationships in general are incredibly important to our well-being.

So much so that an 80-year-long Harvard study found that this is the number one secret to living both a longer and happier existence.

Unfortunately, the research shows that older people can become especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation.

The more we invest in creating a strong network of social connections, the more we can protect ourselves against this.

That may mean:

  • Joining social groups and clubs
  • Connecting with community initiatives
  • Volunteering
  • Sending regular messages to our family, friends, and loved ones
  • Making online friends

The more engaged we are, the more stimulated we’ll feel, and that brings tangible health benefits too.

So says one study looking at social networks in later life, which concluded older people who had more social engagements had a lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t.

Believe the best is yet to come

It’s something I touched on earlier, but I think it’s worth repeating.

They say that you’re only as young as you feel, and I think it’s true.

One of the keys to thriving as you get older is having a positive mindset that truly believes your best years are still ahead of you.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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