Updated: May 23, 2022
The average life expectancy for a Canadian in 2022 is 82.81 years old, which is a stark increase from 71.2 years old, 50 years ago (1). As life expectancy continues to grow, the process of ageing is becoming more evident in our current population. Ageing is a complex biological process causing change down to the cellular level and while inevitable, we have many modern inventions that preserve our abilities. From hearing aids to eyeglasses and even expensive wrinkle creams, we use band aids to cover the symptoms of growing older. Using these band aids implies that successful ageing is maintaining the same level of health until death. However, it is natural to expect a certain level of decline. For the next series we will be delving into the natural course of ageing and how that effects our memory, mental health and hearing. For this first instalment, I will be discussing what it means to age successfully and the factors to consider.
Original image from pixabay
What is the definition of successful ageing? One of the first models of successful ageing was described by Rowe and Kahn. They described above average ageing to incorporate three components; avoiding disease and disability, high cognitive and physical functioning and engagement with life (2). Since then, models have added onto and critiqued the weak points of Rowe and Kahn. One disadvantage is that these three components fail to discuss ageing throughout the developmental stages of life. Ageing begins at birth and not solely later in life. The life-course models incorporate these stages (3).
The life-course models open the discussion to the early influence of genetics. Many are genetically predisposed to certain illnesses and disorders, meaning successful ageing will look different for each individual person and/or group of people (3). Consequently, there is an expected amount of variability between men and women and across cultures when it comes to growing older. Furthermore, environmental exposures through each stage of life also impact the progression of ageing (3). This type of influence introduces the possibility of protective measures we can take early in life to maintain our health. Avoiding activities that are associated with disease and poor health can be beneficial down the road. For one, smoking, lacking regular physical activity and an unbalanced diet are all associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease which is a leading cause of decline and death (4).
Finally, it is unrealistic to expect the same level of health for one’s entire life. What is considered successful ageing will be different based on each individual person's genetics and environmental exposures. We can all take steps to optimize our quality of life through each developmental stage. I will now let the next few posts take it away with the nitty gritty of ageing on a biological level.
1. Canada life expectancy 1950-2022. MacroTrends. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from
2. Rowe, J.W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful Ageing. The Gerontologist, 37(4), 433-
3. Stowe, J. D., & Cooney, T. M. (2015). Examining Rowe and Kahn's Concept of
Successful Aging: Importance of Taking a Life Course Perspective. The Gerontologist,
55(1), 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnu055
4. Dahlof, B. (2010). Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: Epidemiology and Risk
Assessment. The American Journal of Cardiology, 105(1), 3A-9A.