A recent panel discussion hosted by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences explored the steps we can take to live well as we get older.
The RCSI MyHealth discussion was entitled: ‘Positive Ageing: learning to live well as we age'. RCSI MyHealth brings together leading health and well-being experts to share their knowledge and help to empower people to make informed decisions about their own health and well-being.
Led by Prof. Ciarán O’Boyle, Director of RCSI’s Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, the panel was made up of experts in the physical, physiological and psychological areas associated with ageing.
Dr Pádraic Dunne, immunologist, practicing psychotherapist and meditation teacher at RCSI Centre for Positive Psychology and Health discussed the negative impact of ageing on the immune system. He recommended various activities that can help to improve the immune system as people age, including engaging in regular exercise, meditation, eating a predominantly plant-based diet, reducing red meat intake and reducing stress which can damage the immune cells.
Dr Dunne looked to the ‘Blue Zones’ in the world where evidence reveals that people live healthier and for longer. In these countries, people are predominantly eating a plant-based diet, have a low intake of dairy, meat and fish and engage in regular, natural movement such as household chores, and walking to the shops. In these areas also, people reported a strong sense of purpose deriving from good relationships with and engagement in the local community.
Bone and muscle health
Dr Áine Ryan, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Professionalism in Healthcare at RCSI, a chartered physiotherapist and an honorary lecturer in the School of Physiotherapy discussed frailty and the effect of ageing on mental resilience, muscles and bones. Dr Ryan explained that the risk of frailty and the negative impact of ageing on bone and muscle health can be reduced through diet, exercise and decreasing the time spent sitting per day.
In relation to the effects of ageing on the brain, Dr Trudy Meehan, Senior Clinical Psychologist specialising in child and adolescent mental health and lecturer at RCSI Centre for Positive Psychology and Health explained that although the brain’s processing speed slows down with age, complex thinking improves, which is one of the positive effects of ageing.
Dr Meehan stated that we need to change attitudes to ageing and communicate the positive aspects to break the stigma associated with ageing. She referenced the TILDA study that found that older people are net contributors to family and society through the provision of knowledge, finance, social support, childcare and general care for family members. Many older people also volunteer outside the family and are making meaningful contributions to society.
Dr Meehan recommended that older people manage stress and anxiety to help mitigate against some of the negative cognitive impacts of ageing. She recommended paying attention to diet and exercise and stated that having a meaningful purpose can help people to build up a cognitive reserve which puts them in a better position for complications later in life
The key take home messages from the seminar were to be active, to build balance and strength, reduce sitting time, manage stress, live in the moment, avoid looking back in regret, develop a purpose through the community, exercise and eat well by increasing intake of plant-based foods and reducing red meat intake.
The RCSI MyHealth series was established as part of RCSI's commitment to good health and well-being. Ranked second in the world for our contribution to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 'Good Health and Well-being' in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021, RCSI is exclusively focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.
RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.