Outcomes, Inc.

Excerpted from article by Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY, 6/29/11

Whether you are a twentysomething, Gen Xer or Baby Boomer, the older crew has an edge on you, according to new research.

A massive poll looking at American attitudes, health and behaviors concludes that people over age 65 consistently have a higher degree of well-being than any other age group. At the bottom: those 45 to 64.

Even when aches and pains set in and health begins to decline, the older group also is less sad and depressed than any other group, according to the Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing index. The findings are based on more than 1 million surveys done since 2008. Healthways works with health-care professionals to help people thrive and to allow officials to track health and wellness by congressional districts.

“Improve well-being, and productivity goes up and health care costs come down,” says Ben Leedle, president of Healthways. “We want to learn from the older generation’s patterns and make those patterns important parts of all of our lives, regardless of the age group.”

If younger people can change, the benefits could be huge, he says. However, if they don’t adopt healthier ways, they are not likely to do as well as these seniors, and they’ll be less well for longer because of longer life expectancies.

Wellness I: Get active

What does wellness look like to Healthways? Multiple behaviors from smiling and laughing to having access to learn new things, and — no surprise here — eating well and getting plenty of exercise. The older group outscored all groups in healthy behaviors, including not smoking.

According to the Healthways research, middle-aged Americans suffer the lowest well-being due in part to higher obesity rates, higher levels of chronic disease — including depression — and more reports of smoking.

Wellness II: Give back

Another key part of the wellness picture among those over 65: better emotional lives. That means volunteering and finding other ways to improve their community. Don’t have time? Leedle believes other age groups have to find time, or health care costs will soar in a country where one in five people will be 65 or older in 2050.

“We find a 40-year-old male working 12-14 hours a day, supporting a family with several kids,” he says. “We tell him to stop and try to incubate the wisdom of our seniors into his life. They need to learn how to weave that into their routines so it becomes part of the chaos that is the middle of our lives.”

Older people make the most of life:

Think you are happy now? Just wait. The best emotional times come later in life, according to the Gallup-Healthways well-being index.

The oldest group outscored the other three age groups in emotions, which was one of six categories measured in a massive study on well-being. Out of a possible score of 100, the 65-and-older age group scored 83. Those 45-64 had the lowest score, 76.

Credit experience, says Kay McCurdy, 72, of Springfield, Va. “You shift your idea of what a good life is into what you can have as a good life,” says McCurdy. “You get realistic. ”

Elisabeth Burnett, 73, says that having a strong emotional life takes a hefty dose of true grit. Burnett has a daughter going through a divorce and has had to bury another grown child, yet she says she looks ahead with hope and joy.

“Today is the gift,” says Burnett. “I think that’s a kind of wisdom that comes with age that I may have had as a young person but I didn’t exercise as much as I do now.” Randy Weadon, 84, says honesty and discipline turned his sad life around. After going into diabetic shock one night and nearly dying, he started walking, lost 50 pounds and eventually got off insulin. He walks 7 miles a day to keep his weight down.

“I’m happier,” says Weadon, also a Greenspring resident. “I have a better opinion of myself, and just all in all I’m a new person.”

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