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Healthy aging ...what it takes

- © Glow Images, model for illustrative purposes only

Birthdays...we're having more of them than ever in the history of mankind. The number of candles on our birthday cakes is swelling. And there is a growing concern that as we age, we might not be healthy enough to blow them all out. That is a depressing thought.

A demographic tsunami is coming. 7000 Baby Boomers will hit 65 just today. Worldwide, the population of those people over 60 has more than doubled since 1980. By 2050, expect over 2 billion. The implications to health and health care are staggering.

Much time and money are spent on the possibility of halting the aging process. Pharmaceutical and beauty companies try to replicate youthfulness in compounds, drugs, and ointments, yet it seems to avoid capture. The attention, of course, is on the body. Are we missing something when we focus solely on physicality?

Let's be honest. You can't find youth in a bottle or procedure. There is more to it than that. Age is not a condition or an unavoidable destination. Youthfulness is a way of thinking. It's not so much how the world see's you, but how you think about yourself and others. And, living long isn't the only goal; living well is vital.

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age." Sophia Loren once said that and it makes sense. The award-winning actress, whose career currently spans 6 decades, seems to have hit upon something.

How do you "tap" the source that conquers age and contributes to mental and physical wellbeing? It looks like religion/spirituality is a key component. Researchers at George Mason University and College of William and Mary have conducted a study that looks into the relationship between religion, spirituality and mental health outcomes. The results are included in the September 2012 issue of Crossroads..., a newsletter of the Center for Spirituality, Theology & Health at Duke University.

The findings are intriguing. "Results indicated a significant positive relationship between daily spirituality, meaning in life, self-esteem, and positive affect (i.e., well-being)." Spirituality is defined in the study as "my personal relationship with a power greater than myself".

Connecting with God every day is something anyone can do no matter how many Earth-years under their belt. In fact, many have already linked a spiritual/religious life to health. 49% of Americans pray ...about their health!

When it comes to healthy aging, perhaps it takes more healthy praying and thinking, less candle counting. Over time I have worked hard not to tally the number of years spent on planet Earth. It's just not an accurate assessment of how I feel. And although friends and family like to remind me how "old" I am, I tend to celebrate living rather than aging. I don't have birthdays. I have cake-and-present days.

How many candles on your birthday cake this year? Maybe you should stop counting. "The measurement of life by solar years robs youth and gives ugliness to age," writes Mary Baker Eddy in her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She had a good grasp of the link between spirituality, health and aging. The religious leader, healer, and health researcher who founded The Church of Christ, Scientist lived to 90 during a period in our country's past when a woman's life expectancy was just 46.

Is healthy aging possible? Rather than the accumulation of wrinkles, think of life as the buildup of experience and know-how, even spiritual wisdom. That's aging with attitude.

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Steve Salt is a syndicated health blogger and a Christian Science teacher and practitioner. This post was originally published on the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Follow him on twitter @saltseasoned.

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