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Successful Aging


The longevity component of successful aging has been studied through research on causes of mortality and longevity. There have been numerous studies of factors associated with mortality, and a few studies of predictors of longevity. Predictors of longevity include being female; being physically active; not smoking; having good cognitive functioning; higher than average socioeconomic status; high levels of social activity; life satisfaction, and work satisfaction; a high happiness rating; and satisfying sexual activity. In general, the predictors of longevity also predict better health (less disability). This is contrary to the popular theory that greater longevity causes greater disability.

Other studies have focused on factors associated with life satisfaction. These factors include good health, higher than average socioeconomic status, being single or married (as opposed to widowed, divorced, or separated), and high levels of social activity (especially organizational activity). Lawton found that the factors most closely correlated with feelings of well-being were health and activity level.

Usually, there is little or no relationship between life satisfaction and age, race, sex, or employment—once controls are made for health and income. The lack of relationship to age is explained by Brandstädter and Greve as being due to three interdependent processes that older persons use to maintain their life satisfaction as they grow older: assimilation (instrumental coping to attain desired goals), accommodation (changing desired goals), and immunization (filtering out threatening information). A series of analyses of studies of the causes of happiness (e.g., Okun, Stock, Haring, and Witter) also found that health (especially self-rated health), was the most potent correlate of happiness. Achieved social status variables (such as income), as well as lifestyle variables (such as social activity and housing), were modestly related to happiness.

There have been few longitudinal studies of the predictors of happiness or life satisfaction. In the Second Duke Longitudinal Study, the strongest predictors of life satisfaction were health, social activity, and sexual enjoyment. There is considerable overlap between these two sets of predictors: both longevity and satisfaction were predicted by health, higher socioeconomic status, social activity, and sexual enjoyment.

An analysis of the predictors of successful aging in the Second Duke Longitudinal Study of Aging (Palmore) defined successful aging as survival to age seventy-five and being generally happy. Multiple regression analysis found that the significant independent predictors of successful aging were secondary group activity (organizational groups and reading), work satisfaction, physical activity, physical abilities, and happiness. These findings support the activity theory of aging, in that two of the strongest explanatory predictors of successful aging were group activity and physical activity. There is probably a reciprocal causal relationship between these variables: those who remain active are more likely to be healthy and happy, and vice versa.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Successful Aging - Definitions, Causes, Avoiding Disease And Disability, Maintaining Mental Function, Engagement With Life, Heredity