What is positive ageing?

Ageing postively

Positive ageing is a term used to describe the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.

Ageing is often associated with many rewarding experiences. It is however also a time when significant changes might occur. For example, some people experience changes in physical functioning, social networks, employment, and bereavement can become more common. Keeping a positive attitude toward ageing is particularly important as it allows you to continue to feel good and have a sense of control as you face another part of the life cycle. As people age it is natural for them to move in and out of periods of positive ageing. Those who age positively live longer and healthier lives, and enjoy a good quality of life.


A survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) found there are many common challenges experienced by older people. In our sample of older Australians the common difficulties were around:

  • Maintaining health and fitness
  • Maintaining social networks and activities
  • Feelings of sadness and loss
  • Ensuring financial security
  • Decreases in mobility, and
  • An increased reliance on others


How you manage, think about and cope with these sorts of challenges can affect how well you cope with getting older.

Strategies to achieve positive ageing

There are a number of ways to prevent, delay or manage some of the physical, psychological, social and personal challenges people face as they age – some of these are described below.

Maintaining a positive attitude 

The way you feel about yourself and the ageing process can affect how
you view life and the extent to which you are involved in activities and
the opportunities life offers. If you can make choices and have control
over important aspects of your life, and take part in and enjoy activities,
you are more likely to feel good about yourself and get more out of life. 

 

Staying connected 

Social interaction and relationships with others are associated with
positive ageing and feeling optimistic about life. Maintaining social
networks through membership of clubs, engaging in voluntary work
and keeping in touch with family encourages interaction with others,
prevents isolation and promotes good mental health and physical
activity. 

 

Keeping the brain active 

Keeping the brain active, alert and flexible can promote good mental
health and positive ageing throughout the lifespan. Having an active
mind can be as simple as reading a book, learning a new hobby or
problem solving (e.g. doing crosswords). Learning new skills is exercise
for the brain and makes it work a little harder. 

 

Managing stress 

Stress is a natural part of life. While a little stress can be beneficial, when things become too much and usual methods of coping fail, stress may become unhealthy.

The symptoms of stress vary greatly among different individuals. High levels of stress can produce emotional, behavioural, and even physical symptoms. In addition to affecting general wellbeing, stress can also impair the immune system and increase the risk of physical and mental health problems.

Significant changes associated with ageing can cause both short term and chronic stress. Stress can be caused by everyday hassles or be a result of difficult relationships, adjusting to retirement, financial concerns or chronic illness.

Keeping as free from stress as possible, and learning how to effectively cope with unavoidable stress, can promote positive ageing in all areas of your life.

Some good ways to manage stress and cope with daily hassles include:

  • Thinking positively. Stay focused on the positives and use strategies that have worked in the past to relieve stress such as problem solving or goal setting.
  • Looking after yourself. Do some physical activity, get quality rest and eat well.
  • Seeking support. Share your thoughts with a friend or family member, they may be able to help you develop coping strategies.
  • Being calm. Take some deep breaths. Use meditation and relaxation techniques to relax your body and clear your mind.

 

Volunteering or seeking part-time employment 
Many older people find part-time employment or voluntary work rewarding and a chance to give something back to the community. Any type of work can help to keep your mind sharp and can provide a social network outside of the home and family. 

 

Engaging in physical activity 

Regular physical activity is vital for improved health and wellbeing. It is never too late to get moving - the human body responds to exercise, regardless of age. Exercise is a great way to maintain good health, helps you thinking positively, recover from illness and reduce the risk of disease. It has been demonstrated that physical fitness is more important than weight loss.

Strength training is especially beneficial. It can help to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, which in turn will increase physical strength, and improve balance and mobility.

Taking part in leisure activities that you find interesting and suitable for your level of physical functioning is an effective way of becoming more active. People should undertake at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, every day.

Physical activity can also provide social interaction through being outdoors, engaging with others, or by becoming a member of an activity program or club.

It is important to remember that as you age, your physical capabilities are likely to change. Seeking guidance from a health professional before engaging in strenuous activity can reduce any risks involved.

 

Having regular medical checkups 
Older people who have fewer medical conditions have a better quality of life, better mental health and are less restricted in their daily activities. By having regular medical check-ups, engaging in illness prevention (e.g. not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation) and having regular tests or check-ups (e.g. blood pressure, dental) you can help to reduce the possible onset of chronic conditions. 

 

Eating a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is important to maintaining a healthy weight, which will help to reduce the likelihood of developing conditions such as diabetes. A healthy weight will also improve energy levels and make it easier to participate in daily activities.

 

Resources to assist positive ageing

There are many resources and organisations that can help support people to achieve positive ageing.

The Australian Government provides a phone and internet service which is a single point of access to government and non-government resources for Australians over 50 years of age. This service provides information on a range of topics including health, finances, work, volunteering,lifestyle, events and discussion forums.

Seeking psychological help

If you find it difficult to change your diet, cut down alcohol consumption, stop smoking or motivate yourself to exercise more and get out for social activities, a psychologist can help. Psychologists are trained to help people manage emotional stress and adjust to difficult life circumstances, as well as treat psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Psychologists can also support a person to maintain healthy behaviours, such as exercise, and change risky behaviours, such as smoking. Psychologists also work with individuals and their families affected by dementia by providing strategies to manage memory difficulties, initial support at the time of diagnosis and continued support as the condition progresses.

To consult a psychologist, ask your GP for a referral or contact the APS ‘Find a Psychologist’ referral service by phone on 1800 333 497 or online at www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/.