Aging and Important Lifestyle Decisions
Many people make uninformed decisions concerning important life style choices and
consequently they experience poor health and a shortened life span. Many findings in
medicine, biology, psychology and gerontology can be used to better inform people about
how to alter their behavior in order to make the most out of their life.  This essay is devoted
to describing the type of lifestyle that translates into good health, longevity and happiness.

Physical Health:
A person’s body is much like their permanent home, you cannot return it or exchange it but
there are many things that you can do, even when you are very young, to insure its vitality in
later years. Taking care of your body is an essential part to looking and feeling good. Good
health care and regular checkups are essential to maintaining your health and understanding
your body and its life cycle stages. Health and vitality stem from good personal habits, which
are often preventative measures. Many of these things you do not need to see a doctor for,
they are things that you can do on your own, and a few of them are listed here.

Everything that you put into your body counts. Human bodies need certain nutrients and
people should insure that they obtain their daily requirements of vitamins, carbohydrates,
lipids (fats) and proteins.  Also monitoring and moderating the use of drugs including
cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine is vitally important to maintaining good health. Moderating
food consumption is also very important. Two of the most uncomfortable and debilitating
diseases in America today are obesity and hypokinetic disease. Decreasing calorie
consumption can help people decrease body fat. It is hard though to keep weight off just by
dieting, exercise is vital in maintaining a health body.

Exercise plays a very important role in both physical and mental health. People of any age can
improve the quality of their life through moderate physical exercise (Surgeon General,
1996).  Instituting an exercise regimen can save older people from discomfort, pain and
diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and some forms of cancer.

The heart is an organ that is highly damaged by the processes of aging. Older people generally
have much stiffer hearts that have a much higher fat content. This necessitates that the heart
work much harder to maintain circulation (Lakatta, 1995; Whitborne, 1999). Weakening of
the heart and circulatory system were once thought to be normal and irreparable effects of
aging.  New studies show that this is not true.  Damage to the cardiovascular system due to
age, which was once thought to be permanent, can result in a 60-70% decrease in aerobic
capacity (since young adulthood).  Studies have shown though that subjects who maintained
good dieting standards and regular exercise show much less of a decline. In fact older people
who underwent exercise training were able to regain most of their cardiovascular health. The
margin of decrement in aerobic capacity for these subjects was found to be as little as 20-
25% (Trappe et al., 1996).

Experimenters who created exercise routines that included moderate walking, running and
weightlifting found that activity had many curative effects on aged subject groups. Exercise
effectively invigorates organs, increases minute ventilation, heart capacity (cardiac output),
heart efficiency, and heart strength. Exercise has been shown to increase muscle size and
muscle strength in older subjects in much the same way that it does for young athletes. Many
older people do not realize that they have the capacity to put on muscle mass. This is
unfortunate because many of these aging people could truly benefit from added strength and
vitality.

Exercise has even been shown to increase health and fitness, which in turn can increase self
esteem. Self esteem indirectly influences happiness but exercise actually influences
happiness directly.  Physical exertion, aerobic and anaerobic, results in something called
endorphin release. Beta-Endorphin is a neurohormone that is released into the bloodstream
from the pituitary gland. Endorphins attach themselves to specific receptor sites in the brain
that affect our perception of well being and in large amounts create the feeling of euphoria.
This neurohormone helps people cope with the effects of mild to severe exertion. It is the
way that the body rewards you, neurochemically for the positive activity of exercise.
Endorphins not only give you a sense of pleasure and well being they also help to suppress
appetite, increase immune activity, elevate your mood, increase memory retention, increase
learning ability and decrease sleep disturbances.

Exercise has even been shown to increase fluid intelligence, one of the two major
components of intellect. Of course exercise cannot influence the amount of knowledge that
one has, sometimes referred to as crystallized intelligence. But it can increase the capacity
of fluid intelligence, the ability to manipulate concepts and solve new problems. A study by
Elsayd, Ismail, and Young, and along with many other studies like it show that physical
conditioning helps people to perform better on intelligence tests, especially on the problems
associated with fluid intelligence.

Many older people experience decreased visual acuity because they exposed their eyes to
massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation early in life. The high frequency wavelength of
ultraviolet light destroys the retinal receptors in people’s eyes. Avoiding sources of bright
light and wearing sunglasses on sunny days decreases the amount of ultraviolet light that
passes through the optic lens. Taking precautions now can save ones vision in the future.

Hearing loss is one of the most well known, normative changes associated with aging
(Whitborne 1999). Loud noises are one of the leading contributors to hearing disabilities and
deafness. Presbycusis, or the loss of hearing affects almost everyone as they age. The
severity of the hearing loss varies greatly between individuals though and acute hearing loss is
usually due to loud noise. Eliminating loud noises from one’s auditory experience can
alieviate the necessity for hearing aids later in life. Extremely loud noises like those found at
rock concerts, school bands performances and shooting ranges can destroy the complicated
and delicate structures within the ear, including the organ of corti, the auditory nerve and
other neural fibers (Soulsman 1999). Hearing and vision loss can cause more difficulties than
just sensory loss. They can cause people to become increasingly frustrated because they
serve as mental and social handicaps. They can even make people become hostile and
reclusive causing numerous adverse emotional reactions such as loss of independence,
paranoia and depression.

Stress is a major contributor to bad health. Stress increases blood pressure, increases the risk
of hypertension and releases various stress related hormones that have deleterious effects of
health. The production of stress hormones is a physiological reaction to emotional thoughts
about certain types of situations.  Eliminating stressful stimuli from everyday activities, or at
least acting more appropriately and thinking about them more calmly can decrease the stress
and the harmful side effects as well.  According to researchers Woodruff and Birren (1972),
83% of patients in hospital coronary wards describe themselves as competitive and
aggressive compared to only 17% in all of the other wards. This shows us that aggressiveness,
which is usually related to stress, can have very harmful cardiovascular effects. Toning down
competitiveness and anger and focusing on relaxation rather than aggravation can lead to
better health and longer life as well. Chronic stress has many potentially dangerous side
effects including immune system suppression, increased risk of atherosclerosis, and
impaired memory and cognition (Davis et al. 2000).

Mental Health:
Because definite decreases in cognitive capacity accompany the aging process, older people
need to understand some of the mistakes that they are increasingly more prone to make.
Many of these mistakes are related to reasoning and decision making. Avoiding these
mistakes can decrease stress and anger in many individuals.  

Older adults tend to make generalizations and tend not take all factors into account when
making value judgments. This can influence them to activate stereotypes more readily, to use
negative self talk or a negative bias, and to make incorrect or unfair causality attributions.

Older people who are more aware of these simple mistakes are much less prone to make
them and less likely to “stress themselves out.”

Longevity:
Many factors have been shown to affect longevity. Although obesity, high cholesterol and
cigarette smoking are some of the worst things for your health, toxins present in drinking
water and in air pollution are thought to greatly decrease life span as well. Statistically social
economic status is shown to be a factor in longevity because people with sufficient money
are able to have operations and drugs that are inaccessible to many others.

Statistics have shown that people that live in rural areas are more likely to have longer lives.
This is thought to be because rural environments induce less anxiety and stress. Another
factor observable in statistical data is the benefit of having a life partner. Lifespan can be
expected to increase by several years if one is able to find a mate to create a committed
relationship with (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999). This is most probably due to the
alleviation of stress that a partner can provide for you.  This is also related to the fact that
people in committed relationships take better care of themselves and tend to take good care
of each other as well.

Scientific research has given us only partial explanations for why we undergo the process of
aging which later culminates in death. Some scientists have hypothesized that one’s life
expectancy is related to one’s metabolic rate. Theories that relate life expectancy to
metabolism are the rate of living theories.

Rate of living theories assume that all animals have only so much energy to expend in a
lifetime. Many correlations between the life span of certain animals and their metabolic
activity have been observed. For instance insects whose wings are clipped live much longer
than those that fly. Also animals which are induced to hibernate live noticeably longer lives
(Cristofalo et al. 1999). Other scientists have found that reducing caloric intake, thereby
decreasing metabolism, can prolong the life spans of certain animals. Decreasing caloric
intake and therefore decreasing metabolism can increase longevity according to the Hayflick
theory of aging (Hayflick 1996). The Hayflick theory predicts that the cells present in ones
body at birth are only able to divide a certain number of times.  Cells gathered from babies
are able to live and reproduce in a Petri dish much longer than cells gathered from older test
subjects. In fact the older the subject the less time the cells are able to thrive in the
laboratory environment.

Another prevalent theory of aging associates free radicals, a chemical product of cell
metabolism, to cell damage. The consumption of vitamins C, E and D all can counteract the
destructive effect of free radicals. Eating fresh fruit, vegetables and vitamins can help combat
the proliferation of free radicals in the body and provide some of the many necessary
nutrients to organs and the nutriments to cells.

Happiness:
There are many things that people can do to increase their happiness and feeling of life
satisfaction as they age. Some of these things include exercise, eating right, taking care of
one’s body and maintaining healthy friendships.  

Increasing one’s involvement with other people can give individuals increased self esteem
and sense of self efficacy. Studies show that increased socialization decreases one’s chances
of depression.  The strength and number of close friendships can vastly affect one’s life
satisfaction (Fehr 1996).

People who are found to have congenial social habits often end up happier than people who
do not. Psychologists have found that people who self disclose are more likely to be rated as
friendly by a group of peers. Self disclosure is revealing information about oneself. Letting
someone know about you often leaves you vulnerable to criticism, yet people are more likely
to like and trust those who are willing to open themselves up. Women are more likely than
men to divulge information about their private lives. One good thing to remember about self
disclosure is that people who self disclose get along better with others who self disclose and
visa versa.

People are internal and external in their locus of control. Internal people attribute situational
occurrences to themselves and others. External people, on the other hand, attribute
occurrences to external factors. Military studies show that internals do well with internals
and externals with externals. You don’t want to pair up the person who is quick to point the
finger with someone who never accepts responsibility.

People who are low in self esteem are happiest with others who are low in self esteem, or
those who are high in self esteem yet are unreasonably generous to them. People low in self
esteem don’t like themselves, they often assume that others don’t like them either They are
more likely to be hostile and are easily provoked to anger and heartache. When you consider
what kind of people to surround yourself with, first determine what kind of person you are in
terms of self disclosure, locus of control and self esteem. Understanding yourself better in
these terms can help you evaluate what kind of friends and partners you will be most
compatible with.

Many people make trade offs all the time. They do something now that will hurt them in the
future or they fail to take the time to perform important rituals only to feel the negative
effects later on. For instance many people expose themselves to cancer causing substances
intentionally and on a regular basis. Many people seek instant gratification, and many of these
people downplay the fact that even though they are pleasing themselves now, they will have to
pay later. We must learn to replace hedonic decision making with informed, conscientious
decision making. This applies to dietary concerns, exercise, friendships, and competency
issues as well.

Competence:
Many older people are not able to perform at their full ability because others expect very
little of them. Many stereotypes exist about older adults that are very limiting and derogatory
(Heckhausen & Lang, 1996). Also many people speak to older adults in a patronizing manner,
termed elderspeak, that is insulting to older people and harmful to their sense of self
efficacy. The combined effects of the stereotyping and low expectations hinder older adults
and keep them from performing at their true level of ability.

Successful aging involves over coming negative stereotypes, maintaining mental and physical
health, avoiding disease, and feeling happy, independent and accomplished.
Organization for the Advancement of   
Interdisciplinary Learning