Whole-Person Wellness for Vital
Living: Part Four
New subscribers can read the
first three installments of this five-part series on wellness by SFA author Jan
Montague, MGS, by clicking on "Whole-Person Wellness for Vital Living." Below,
Ms. Montague describes research suggesting that in many cases whole-person
wellness can impede the aging process.
Research shows that for many aging individuals, participation in
whole-person wellness programs slows the aging process and promotes
independence. In 1987, the MacArthur Foundation's Study of Aging in America
provided a new framework for the study of aging and quality of life. Spearheaded
by Drs. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, the study was designed to explore the
factors responsible for the positive aspects of aging. Its goals were to "move
beyond the limited view of chronological age and to clarify the genetic,
biomedical, behavioral, and social factors responsible for retaining -- and even
enhancing -- people's ability to function in later life."
The MacArthur Foundation donated more than 10 million dollars in support and
supplied thousands of older adult participants. During a period of 10 years, the
results from dozens of interdisciplinary research projects were examined. The
combined data from those studies provided the best evidence that successful
aging is not determined by genetic inheritance. Instead, we age successfully by
incorporating wellness concepts and beliefs into all aspects of our lives.
Several pertinent conclusions from the MacArthur Foundation's Study of Aging in
America involve the following:
The ability to maintain a high
level of mental function was attributed to: (1) a strong social support system;
(2) regular physical activity; (3) education and lifelong
intellectual/vocational activities; (4) self-efficacy (a belief in one's ability
to handle what life has to offer); (5) social connectedness; and (6) reducing
feelings of isolation, whether actual or perceived. The interdisciplinary
studies found that isolation was a powerful risk factor for poor health. The
more frequently older people participated in social relationships, the better
their overall health.
Not surprisingly, seniors
participating in regular physical exercise and activities experienced better
overall health than their contemporaries who did not. Improvements in physical
function included: (1) increased strength, endurance, and flexibility; (2)
improvements in connection with mood, balance, coronary heart disease, high
blood pressure, colon and rectal cancer, diabetes and related problems,
arthritis, and osteoporosis; and (3) a reduction in the number of falls.
Study participants who approached
life with a "Yes, I can!" attitude generally had the best coping skills and
highest self-esteem. Self-efficacy can be increased by undertaking a specific
action or activity that challenges one's sense of self-sufficiency without
overwhelming it. Self-confidence is also bolstered by the presence of supportive
and reassuring others or the experience of succeeding at something with
confirming feedback from others.
In conclusion, society is beginning to embrace a new perspective -- healthy
aging. Today people are more likely to be defined by what they can do, rather
than by what they can't do. Seniors are becoming role models for younger cohorts
because they are achieving desirable health outcomes by combining whole-person
wellness principles with self-responsibility for health.
Current research is showing that the wellness model is not a passing fad. In the
coming years, more and more senior living communities and senior service
organizations will adopt wellness as their core philosophy. By choosing
wellness, they will set the new standard by promoting successful living. We must
continue to focus on prevention, whole-person involvement, and the
implementation of programs and services that keep people healthy in mind, body,
and spirit throughout their lifespan.
(Be sure to see the next issue of Experience! for the final installment in this
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