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Living a long and happy life: Mental health and aging

While aging can be an adjustment, 67% of people age 60 and older said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their life, according to a study released by AARP. This is even a higher level of satisfaction than reported by younger age groups. Still, we could all use some reminders of how to improve mental health as we age to ensure we remain healthy and have the support we need for the years to come.


Be aware of depression symptoms.

The more you know about aging and mental health, the more positive your golden years may be. It’s true that the loss of a spouse or an increase of chronic health conditions as people age could contribute to a higher risk of developing depression, but that doesn’t mean depression should be considered par for the course. Knowing what to look for can help. Symptoms of depression can sometimes be confused with symptoms of other chronic conditions or the side effects of medicines that can frequently be prescribed. When depressed, older people may show signs of tiredness, insomnia, irritability, and confusion.

Seniors may also be at risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that occurs mostly in the winter months when many people, especially those who are older, are unable to get outside and get appropriate amounts of mood-boosting sunlight. The good news is that SAD and other age-related mental health pressures can be treated and even prevented.

Five ways to improve mental health as you age.

There is truth to the adage “older and wiser,” as you become less concerned with what people think and more adept at using all that long-accumulated knowledge – it’s actually called crystalized intelligence. With age also comes better insight into how others think or feel, because you’re more in tune with people’s emotions. This makes relationships better, as you tend to be more understanding. Here are some things to do to further support emotional well-being as you, or an older adult you know, moves into what may be the best chapter of life:

1. Stay social.

Maintaining an active social circle of close friendships can help fight off depression and keep life meaningful. Consider joining a club or travel group. Studies have even shown that strong social networks may be linked to slower cognitive decline.

2. Remain active.

It’s no secret physical activity offers many benefits. But staying active when you’re older can help prevent stiff muscles and joints to preserve mobility and flexibility, which can help maintain independence and positivity. It can also promote relaxation and an overall sense of well-being. Yoga and Pilates are gentle, yet great for strength. And even just walking one hour per week is shown to make a difference.

3. Maintain good nutrition.

Healthy eating fuels your body with important nutrients. Eat foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Research shows that salmon and other fatty fish can help lower anxiety, while blueberries not only help regulate mood, but can also protect the brain from aging. Try to limit added sugars and salt to reduce risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. And don’t forget to up your protein; it helps to maintain muscle mass as you age, which can keep you moving and self-reliant.

4. Continue learning.

Your brain is at its healthiest when it’s continuously challenged to learn new things; it’s capable of physical change and growth throughout your whole life. Keep your brain sharp by learning new hobbies or taking classes in topics that bring you joy.

5. Be positive.

Keeping an optimistic attitude can help you reduce stress and even live longer. Studies show positive thinking can extend your life by 11% to 15%. Try keeping a gratitude journal, practicing daily meditation, or repeating positive affirmations.

Take advantage of programs that help you age well.

Members of Tufts Health Plan Medicare Advantage Plans have several resources to support their mental well-being. Their Preferred Extras programs offer members discounted rates on services and classes designed to help lead a healthy lifestyle. Members can keep mobile and happy with discounts on personal training from Fitness Together. Ompractice offers live, online yoga and meditation classes for up to 40% off, so members can keep their bodies and minds flexible no matter their age. And speaking of keeping minds flexible, BrainHQ memberships are also available for less. These memory fitness programs help improve retention, brain speed, confidence, and attention. Discounted nutrition counseling is also available to members of Tufts Health Plan Medicare Advantage Plans, as well as discounts on meal delivery and meal prep subscriptions. These offerings make eating for healthier aging more affordable and deliciously easy.

You can find many ways to support your mental health as you age. But if you or a loved one is experiencing chronic feelings of anxiety or sadness, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional. Additionally, consider sharing your feelings with a close friend or family member. By actively taking control of your emotional well-being, you can live healthy and happy no matter how many candles are on the cake.


This content was written by the advertiser and edited by Studio/B to uphold The Boston Globe's content standards. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its writing, production, or display.