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By Dr. Stephen Fleming, PhD, C. Psych.

Aging is inevitable, but there is something you can do about it.

Canadians are aging; the number of Canadians aged 65 or older will number 9.5 million or 23 percent of our population by 2030 when all baby boomers will have reached the age of 65 (Statistics Canada). There is considerable diversity in this cohort, e.g., the “junior senior”, in the 65 to 74-year-old category, will most likely have different activity levels and face different challenges than those in the 75 to 84-year category, and different again from those older than 85 years.

Although older adults are living longer, more active lives than ever before, preconceived notions about aging persist and it’s important to challenge them. Common misconceptions include (a) the belief that growing older primarily involves loss and decline, and this inevitable regression is beyond our control, and (b) age-related losses are permanent and irreversible. 

Although growing older is associated with major physical, psychological, and social challenges, we don’t necessarily die from old age per se but principally from the common diseases that we encounter in our later years, the so-called “big four” (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s). The “big four’ are not only influenced by environment and genetics (you can’t pick your parents) but also by life choices. Research on those who’ve enjoyed healthy longevity (“super-agers”) has shown that aging can be modified by certain habits and lifestyles.

What are some of the life choices that can impact how we age and mitigate physical decline? The aging process can be affected by not abusing drugs or alcohol, by good sleep hygiene, by not smoking as well as by: 

  • exercise - reduces body fat, improves immune system functioning, lowers blood sugar levels, and improves cognitive functioning.
  • social engagement – connecting with others through social activities and community involvement reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • diet - fruit, leafy vegetables, fish, and nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a lower risk of major chronic diseases and enhanced physical and mental function.
  • Improving cognitive function – choosing such habits as physical activity, learning new and demanding skills, social connections, mindfulness meditation, restorative sleep, and reducing chronic stress can enhance cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline.

Finally, some age-related losses may well be permanent and irreversible, however, there are data to show that early intervention and sustained engagement in challenging cognitive and physical activities can enhance memory and not only ward off decline but potentially minimize, delay, or reverse age-related loss.

In collaboration with: Vic Gladwish, Gladwish on Demand Editorial Services

Abrams, Z. (2020). Older Adults Have More Control Over Their Aging Than They Think
American Psychological Association, Vol. 51, No.7.
Diehl, M., Mehrotra, C.M., & Smyer M.A. (2020). Optimizing aging: A call for a new narrative. American Psychologist, 75 (4), 577-589.
Older Adults Health and Age-related Changes. American Psychological Association
Office on Aging.