"What do you think makes people live long and keep well?"
That’s the question lead researcher Raewyn Bassett of Dalhousie University recently put to a group of older Canadians.
The study was based on interviews with 2,783 relatively healthy adults living in the community. They ranged in age from 75 to 104. Among those interviewed, 520 (18.7 per cent) responded in French and 2,263 (81.3 per cent) in English.
The question garnered several hundred ideas. Researchers arranged the responses into three categories: personal factors, relationships with others and system influences, such as social services and financial resources.
The study was published in the summer edition of the Canadian Journal on Aging (Volume 26, No.2, 2007).
For the most part, these older Canadians consider themselves responsible for their longevity and well-being. They emphasized individual practices, such as positive attitude, keeping active and eating properly.
In general, they believed physical illness was less significant than the will to adapt to illness and avoid further physical decline as long as possible. Several suggested that this requires "grit" and "willpower."
Most respondents also stressed the importance of maintaining self-control by keeping the body and mind active.
Relationships with others
Keep up with current affairs, renew memberships in organizations and re-invigorate your contact with family and friends, several advised.
"You’ve got to make the effort to meet people; you’ve got to get out of the house," others cautioned.
Overall, respondents recognized that their interactions with others were linked to their health: "Think the best of everybody. Hate affects your health."
Some older people noted the role of social and economic resources in living long and keeping well. Plan early for retirement: "Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it helps to buy the support you need to live well."
A number of respondents mentioned improvements in the health care system and advances in science and medicine. A small number of French respondents were wary of excessive medication: "There are too many chemical products and medications in circulation," they said.
Some older people regretted the lack of a culture of caring. "A sense of caring for seniors is absent in our community today," one man said. "A sense of community is gone. The minister did not pay a visit when my wife was sick with cancer. I was appalled since we put, and still do, so much into this community."