As we age, don’t we want to be active? Active aging is living as fully as possible within all dimensions of wellness. 2011 marked the year that the first boomer turned 65.  As the baby boomers age, with 10,000 turning 65 every day, the perception of age and aging is changing. Baby boomers are different than their parents, the traditionalists. Their lives seek meaning by doing: learning, working, playing, and/or volunteering. Preventing functional decline is paramount in active aging.

When I taught an undergraduate class in public health, I showed the students a picture of an “older” woman in a bikini and asked the students to guess her age. Now this was not your typical looking “older” woman. She was buff. Most students would say in her 50’s. If she was in her 50’s, she would look fantastic. However, she was 86! At 72, she had bought some cat litter and could not lift it into her house, so she took up weight lifting and now wins every competition in the 50+ category. What a story. However, is she the exception?

There is an organization that brings professionals together in an association that “leads, connects, and defines the “active aging” industry – The International Council on Active Aging. They maintain that we change the way we age by staying active, to the fullest extent possible, within all areas of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, professional, environmental and social. Aging within these dimensions of wellness keeps us involved, alert and enjoying a productive life.

They promote the concept of active aging, which is summed up in the phrase “engaged in life.” Individuals can participate in life as fully as possible, regardless of socioeconomic status or health conditions, within the wellness dimensions. Their age-friendly philosophy designates programs that provide the information, access and motivation people need to become and stay active through all levels of functional ability. It is about time we get off the couch.

One of the famous guru’s of fitness and “active aging” was Jack LaLanne, who just died recently at 96. What a model. He inspired millions to eat well and exercise. We need to carry on his philosophy and approach of health living. 

The International Council on Active Aging organization conducted a survey recently predicting the top 10 trends in active aging. These trends are summarized here.

  1. Increased wellness programs: Wellness is exploding. Hospitals, clinics, sports clubs, among others are developing and expanding their programs.
  2. More wellness professionals: More exercise physiologists, physical therapists, sports medicine professionals, personal trainers, chiropractors, orthopedists, naturopaths, and coaches are and will increasing be in demand by the baby boomers.
  3. Convergence of rehabilitation and wellness: Wellness activities prevent functional decline, while rehabilitation’s goal is to return people to optimal function. Sports or activity injuries are very prevalent, therefore a convergence.
  4. Rejection of the stereotypes of aging: Social and self perception of aging is changing rapidly. Diversity and productivity of what “old” is will revolutionize our thinking, especially as it applies to our perception of self. Jack LaLanne is an example.
  5. Increase energy-boosting solutions: Most of us want to maintain a healthy lifestyle and ensure we have energy as we age. Programs are being developed to boost our energy and I do not mean by drinking Red Bull. Exercise increases our energy level, if we overcome the lack of energy to exercise.
  6. Redefine retirement – Transitioning: The image of a rocking chair in retirement is antiquated. Older workers are choosing to stay on the job or develop new roles, such as volunteering, that provide productivity, usefulness, and meaning. These transitions result in opportunities to provide health management, fitness, and wellness programs to aid older workers to stay as productive as possible for as long as possible.
  7. Technology revolution: We have seen a tremendous growth in communication and access to information through technology. Brain games, assistive devices, lifelong learning through immersive games, e-health and social media are emerging at lightning speed and will facilitate even those who have chronic conditions that may limit our function to continue to be active. After all, look at the 6 million dollar man!
  8. Reengineering industries: As businesses become aware of and serve the older active adult market through wellness centers, accessible and co-housing projects, and recreation programs, there will be new approaches developed by architects, developers, builders, and other professions to meet the needs of these new age elders.
  9. “Green” communities: During the last several years, “green” has become very important. We recycle, develop energy clean transportation, and green communities. Meditation gardens, labyrinths, walking or cycling paths, community gardens, and eco tourism have begun to be quite prolific. Boomers have fostered an era of social responsibility and establishment of a minimal foot print.
  10. Age friendly cities:  We are beginning to create environments that foster social integration, inclusion, and participation. Age friendly encourages active and accessible services. Walking or biking to the work place, store, or service facility is desirable. Through design and architecture, cities are becoming more user-friendly and conscious of the importance of being “green”. 

Aren’t you an active aging person? Don’t you want to be engaged in life? Although a simple concept, active aging is having a profound impact on our society. The baby boomers are changing our perceptions of aging. They are certainly “adding life to years”.