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Copyright 2007,
American Senior Fitness









Whole-Person Wellness
for Vital Living

Jan Montague, MGS.


Part Four of five installments


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:

  • Mental Function

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.

  • Physical Function

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.

  • Self-Efficacy

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 five-part series.)

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