Successful Aging Starts at Midlife
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all aging and there is no stopping it. Hong Kong has one of the world's longest life expectancy, with men living to over 81 and women over 87 years of age.
Successful aging entails 3 important elements: 1.) Avoiding physical illness and disability, 2.) Maintaining high physical and mental function, and 3.) Active engagement in life. To prevent or delay having those most feared life-threatening or debilitating illnesses commonly found in old age, such as cancer, dementia, heart diseases and stroke, we need to start taking important steps when we enter into 40's in midlife.
Forties and fifties are an extremely stressful life period where executives or professionals have moved into important management positions with tremendous responsibilities, possibly with hectic traveling schedules, leading bigger teams, managing larger budgets and territories. Meanwhile in the home front, we are shouldering responsibilities in parenting children as well as in supporting or making caregiving arrangements for aging parents. However, as we relentlessly focus all of our energy in pursuing career success, we expect everyone around us to "give way" to our priorities. Being sandwiched in these ever-increasing demands and having to keep charging on, many of us would hold onto the belief that we are still ever so invincible and choose to ignore signs and signals that have start creeping up on us.
Chronic stress reactions appear in a myriad of ways, ranging from poor or disrupted sleep, high blood pressure, fatigue, memory decline, decreased concentration, irritability, hostility and low mood. As these would create obstacles in achieving our career goals, we would readily turn to quick fi xes to numb or distract us from the discomfort: becoming dependent on sleeping aids, smoking, drinking, high energy drinks, comfort food with high sugar and fat content, lashing out our frustration on others around us, etc. Unfortunately, not only do these behaviors hurt our relationships at home and at work, they largely increase our risk factors for having chronic diseases and stack against our chances of successful aging despite a longer life span, e.g., many of the modifi able risk factors for dementia are related to mid-life health conditions.
According to The Aging Game published by The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2015, the pillars of healthy aging include sewing heathy habits such as: non-smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, a Mediterranean diet emphasizing eating of vegetables, fruits, seafood and olive oil, weight watching, high physical activity, flavonoids and vitamin D. The latest research on "Successful Aging Factors Enhancement (S.A.F.E.)" done in Hong Kong (Lo, Chong &Yuen, 2017) also found that healthy habits, physical and cognitive health, mood and sleep all work together to contribute to lifesatisfaction in old age.
We believe that making midlife preparations for delaying aging reap multiple benefits. Executives are not expected to compromise their career achievement, instead they need to strive to make worklife balance a realty and sustainable. It would be desirable for younger executives to learn de-stress strategies for higher productivity. For executives at mid-life, while pushing for peak performance, they need to take steps to build their psychological capital (PsyCap) in general and resilience skills in particular. To be truly effective leaders, they need to strengthen their capabilities in regulating their own and other people's emotions. As executives begin to age and fi nd their energy level diminishing, practicing evidence-based measures for better sleep will ensure better brain and better overall health.
Dr. Rhoda Yuen, PhD (USA),
Sr. Counseling Psychologist
Founder of De-stress & Be Well® Psycho-Education Series & Successful Aging
Factors Enhancement (S.A.F.E.) Series. Principal Program Advisor at Aging & Better Care Ltd.
About Aging & Better Care Limited Aging & Better Care Limited (ABC) is a self-sustainable, non-profi t organization set up by a group of healthcare professionals and business executives. Our mission is to promote "Work Resilience", "Successful Aging" and "Care for Aging Parents". "Successful Aging Starts at Midlife Series" is led by our Principal Advisor & Program Leader, Dr. Rhoda Yuen, Adjunct Associate Professor, CUHK and Sr. Counseling Psychologist with over 30 years of experience in helping both corporations as well as individuals. Her team in Heart to Health Center (H2H) is comprised of counsellors and trainers with over 20 years of experience in counselling, management as well as training and education.