Make the most of those post-60 years

July 1, 1993

Make the most of those post-60 years

By Phyllis Picklesimer, Media/Communications Specialist University of Illinois College Urbana-Champaign

One in six Americans is age 60 or older. If you’re in this group, you can take steps to make these years a satisfying part of your life, said Cammy Seguin, University of Illinois Extension educator.

Seguin’s first tip is to work hard to maintain a positive attitude. “Positive emotions strengthen the immune system, and optimism is a resource for healing. People with a positive attitude and determination don’t let daily problems overwhelm them. They accept responsibility for their lives, remain flexible and open to change, accept uncertainty, and make changes when they can,” she said.

She also touts the importance of supportive relationships for people more than 60. “Some people need only a few close relationships, while others need more. Studies show that positive social relationships give meaning and order to people’s lives, provide practical and emotional help in time of need, provide a buffer from the stress of everyday life and from major stress-producing events that come along, and help people not to be continually focused on themselves.”

Seguin notes that as people get older, they often find their important relationships change due to death, divorce, and illness, or because friends move away. She encourages older people to actively form new relationships so they will continue to have a recreation and support network.

“It’s important, too, to become involved in meaningful activities. Too much empty time, and you can become preoccupied with your health. You may become bored, and other people may find you boring,” she said.

She added that older Americans are an enormous resource to our communities. “Americans in this age group, especially retirees, are some of this country’s most valued volunteers. They’re not only making a difference in their communities, they are also helping themselves because volunteering offers very real personal, physical, and emotional benefits. It gives meaning and purpose to their lives,” she said.

Perhaps the most important trait for the over-60 population to have is resiliency, and that’s something that comes from being a survivor in life, she said. Seguin said resiliency means getting back up when circumstances get you down.

Instead of coping with problems by overeating, drinking alcohol excessively, blaming others, or escaping in sleep, resilient people talk to people who can help them with their problems, share their feelings and make a plan of action, and find ways to compensate for their losses. Resilient people often rely on their faith and their sense of humor.

And it’s not too late. Experts think that effective coping skills can be learned and strengthened in later life, said Seguin. “How you choose to live will affect the way you age,” she said.

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