Americans Are Embracing Life as They Age

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
February 08, 2023
Americans Are Embracing Life as They Age

One national survey finds that life is good on the whole for older Americans. Stereotypes about miserable final years prove untrue. Here's what you should know.

If you could take a pill that could extend your life by 10 years, would you? That was a key question of a study by National Geographic and the AARP, a nonprofit for older Americans.

Three quarters of U.S. adults — from age 18 to 80 plus — said that they’d be “at least somewhat likely" to take the pill.

Although people want to be healthy as they age — and about 2 out of 3 people in their 50s and 8 of 10 in their 80s are living with one or more serious or chronic health conditions — they tended to rate their health as good or better.

It’s a matter of perspective. “Good health is being able to get up each day and do the things that you plan to do,” says Ruth, one respondent in her 90s.

Or, to quote Timothy, 51: “You just wake up in the morning, you eat a handful of pills, and you go about your day. You don’t let it overwhelm your mind.”


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Older people take care of themselves

Some 44 percent of people 80 and older say they do strength training, with the goal of staying independent. Older people fear loss of mobility or mental sharpness more than illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. In this survey, more than three-quarters of people age 60 and up take steps to ensure they get restful sleep, maintain a healthy weight, and keep up their stamina.  

Good relationships help

Before age 40, just over half of the respondents described their relationships as excellent or very good — but that number steadily rises and hits 85 percent by age 80.

The “Midlife Crisis” hits in the 60s

People take stock then, and many put a new emphasis on their health and emotional ties.

Most people in this survey retired at age 64 or earlier, often because of health challenges. But a fifth of the people in their 80s or older retired after 70. Some need the money, while others like to keep busy.

People get happier in the second half of life

The survey helps confirm separate research showing that people get happier after midlife — though scientists debate whether the shift occurs after age 50 or after age 60.  

There are no guarantees, but these are consistent results with big data sets around the world.

To boost your chances of aging happily, it helps to have friends. In a study of more than 270,000 adults those who focused on family exclusively had poorer functioning than those who valued friendship highly. An 80-year study of 1,500 Californians concluded that people who are involved in a social network that includes advising and caring for others live longer.

Like many people aged 50 and up, you may look back and wish you had the wisdom, emotional maturity, and life experience at age 20 that you have now. At the same time, you wouldn’t mind a young body, wrinkle-free skin, and that feeling of immortality.

Maybe you can have it all. The science of health and aging has come a long way, and you now know that keeping yourself vital and strong is possible through exercise and a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to just grow old and broken-down.

In one survey, three times as many people said they would rather stay age 50 than 20. Only 17 percent considered people in their 60s to be old, and nearly three quarters believe they will live into their 80s.

More than 80 percent believe they can slow down the effects of aging. Diet is their biggest weapon, followed by exercise.

You may be among those who said they joined a gym, use anti-aging creams, and gave up smoking and alcohol. One-fifth said they also regularly practice cognitive mental exercises to keep their minds sharp.

But the survey also found that while middle-aged people claim to look and feel younger than their age, “scientific study after study” finds that you are more likely to be older than your chronological age.


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February 08, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN