Are Successful Aging and Anti-Aging Competing Ideas?

Aging is a hot topic, especially since so many baby boomers have passed the age of 65. What is successful aging? Can one truly age successfully?

News, articles, and television commercials all focus on different aspects of aging such as prevention, managing chronic disease, the struggles of caring for aging parents, and the end of life.

What is Successful Aging?

What is successful aging? Successful aging was first defined in 1961 as “the condition of individual and social life under which the individual person gets a maximum of satisfaction and happiness”.

Anti-aging, on the other hand, supports the idea that the aging process can be interrupted by biomedical interventions to delay or reverse aging. (Flatt, M., Settersten, R., Ponsaran, R., Fishman, J., 2010)

Does a Young Appearance Equal Successful Aging?

Depending on your personal beliefs, you may support both ideas or be skeptical of the anti-aging industry that is comprised of maintenance, beauty, and treatment products. According to Modor Intelligence, the anti-aging product industry is projected to reach $64 billion in revenue up from $44 million in 2020.

Skeptics who oppose the anti-aging industry say that it promotes fear of aging by supporting a belief that the Fountain of Youth exists. Others say that the products offer hope but no real solutions.

Is Working to Be Healthy the Key to Successful Aging?

On the other hand, gerontologists who believe in successful aging focus on the idea of personal responsibility to reduce the likelihood of disease through diet, exercise, and social interaction. The idea of having to work to age successfully may be less appealing than the idea of taking a pill or applying a magic lotion.

The American Academy of Aging, established in 1992, has more than 26,000 members from around the world. The website lists predictors of health to be:  an absence of chronic illness, never having smoked, drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a positive outlook, managing stress levels, and income over US $30,000.

Many anti-aging professionals support the idea of prevention believing that it is better to prevent disease and disability rather than to treat after diagnosis.

While this seems to be clear logic, society often chooses immediate gratification —I want to eat a cinnamon roll—instead of eating a piece of fruit because rationally fruit is better for my body but I really want the emotional satisfaction of eating a sugar-filled, icing topped, soft doughy cinnamon roll. Just reading the description makes you want to eat one right now. Cinnamon rolls are comfort food.

What About Maintaining Health?

There also exists the idea of what I call maintenance.  Just like we maintain our automobiles through the actions of new tires, oil changes, new batteries, and the like we must maintain our bodies.

car purchased and never maintained will cease to run, just as a house purchased in top condition will be in ruin after a number of years if never maintained. Daily exercise and good eating habits, while not always immediately gratifying, show benefits related to good health if practiced on a consistent basis.

In contrast, while gerontologists believe in the importance of family and social connections in supporting good health, anti-aging experts believe that good health supports family and social connections.

This is a chicken versus the egg concept.  Are we more socially active because we feel good or does being socially connected make us feel good?

Effect of Positive Relationships on Healthy Aging

Similar to the idea that parents with successful children have better parent-child relationships is the idea that adults who successfully age have better relationships all around. Might it be equally true that any aspect of our life at which we believe we have failed— such as weight loss, avoiding chronic disease, or divorce—sets up mental thought patterns that result in physical manifestations of poor emotional and physical health?

Perhaps successful aging versus anti-aging might better be thought of in light of a mind-body connection. If we build positive thoughts surrounding all aspects of life and then put in place consistent and daily actions to support our desires, is it possible that we might age successfully by implementing preventative measures so that we reduce the likelihood of age-related losses?

Again proof that there is no one right way to age successfully.  Some individuals living beyond the age of 100 reported smoking daily; a habit usually supporting an early demise instead of super longevity. I guess we’ll all have to figure out the answer to what is successful aging for ourselves.


American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. What is anti-aging medicine?

Flatt, M.A., Settersten, R.A., Ponsaran, R., Fishman, J.R., (2013) Are “anti-aging medicine” and “successful aging” two sides of the same coin? views of anti-aging practitioner. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(6), 944-955, doi:10.1093/geronb/gbt086. Advance Access publication, September 10, 2013.

©2014, 2022 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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