How to be happy: Be more active to feel better about ageing

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The Independent Online

Q. 'I am beginning to feel old and it is getting me down. What can I do to make ageing feel less miserable?' D.

Step 1: We are all getting older and will never be younger than we are today. Despite the reality of the ageing process, our chronological age bears little relation to our psychological age. Wisdom is not the preserve of the elderly and youthfulness is not the preserve of the young. State of mind is everything in combating negative associations related to ageing and will eventually be reflected back by a society which is ageing as never before; media representations of older age will inevitably become more positive because older people will be more prevalent. They will also be more relevant in terms of spending power, which means that advertisers are going to have to start identifying positive aspects of this ever-growing group. This will be a good thing as currently we know that older age is largely associated with negative attributes, which presents an unbalanced view.

Step 2: Research shows that most adults over 65 are very healthy, and physical deterioration can be ameliorated quite dramatically with a healthy diet and physical exercise. Research also confirms that cognitive functioning does not decline as rapidly as first thought and that older brains are still capable of forming new neuronal networks, so one way to stay youthful is to keep learning. An active sex life is also important for maintaining youthfulness.

Step 3: The things we can do to age healthily are to stop smoking by the age of 45, drink alcohol moderately, maintain a healthy weight and healthy relationships, exercise, have a mature outlook on life and keep learning. The academic psychologist Illona Bonniwell, in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell (PWBC, £7.99), advises us to make an effort and not take ageing too seriously.

Step 4: Older age isn't all bad – the older we are, the less likely we are to experience negative emotions. We also form deeper, closer and more satisfying relationships.

Cecilia is a psychologist and broadcaster. If you'd like her to answer your problems, email her at c.dfelice@independent.co.uk

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