Scientists from the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA) at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine have unveiled new findings that clarify what it means to age successfully.
Their study also points to modifiable factors that could help more people remain healthy as they age.
The researchers found that people are more likely to age successfully if they are educated, have never been incarcerated, are married, consume only moderate amounts of alcohol and either work for pay or do volunteer work.
"What you do before age 50 really will generally have the bigger impact on how well you age. Our research shows how aging is a lifelong process. The person you become at a very old age is really a function of how you lived your earlier years," said lead author Rachel Pruchno, who is also the director of research at NJISA.
The researchers examined how factors early in life, as well as current behaviours, distinguished four groups of older individuals: those who age successfully according to objective criteria; those who age successfully according to subjective criteria; those who are successful according to both measures; and those who age successfully according to neither set of criteria.
Pruchno said: "Education and incarceration were particularly strong factors. The fact that we currently have a large number of people in prison serving relatively short sentences could herald a significant public health problem in the future. Interestingly, although marriage also coincided with successful aging, being childless did not appear to have a negative impact."
The findings, based on telephone surveys of more than 5,600 New Jersey residents between the ages of 50 and 74, appear in an advance article in The Gerontologist.