Nursing Foundations of Community Health

Healthy Aging

For some time, demographers have expressed concern that the first part of the 21st century would face a number of potential challenges due to an aging population. A number of methods to reduce the effects of time are thought to be new and innovative, when often; it is many tried and true methods that are the most efficacious. This is as important for medical specialists, geriatric caregivers, and even family caregivers -- those in the trenches who are faced with the daunting and daily tasks of helping to care for our aged ("Family Caregivers, 2010). They know that using physical activity to bolster biological reactions is one of these methods that work -- and now science has proven that certain chemicals are released when one is active, amused or happy that indeed, aid in learning, comprehension, and anti-aging (Harlin 2008). In the very core of human neurobiology, in fact, moving muscles -- from the arms, hands, and legs, even to the mouth (smiles) and diaphragm produces proteins that interact with neurochemicals to form some fantastic ways to enhance biological processes (Ratey 2008, 5).

Obesity and its related issues; diabetes, coronary disease, osteo-disease, and liver and renal failure, is an endemic problem in contemporary American society. So much so, for instance, that First Lady Michelle Obama has announced an initiative fighting obesity. She, too, is calling obesity an epidemic and one of the greatest threats to the future health of the United States. Her approach is multifaceted, concentrating on education, availability of healthy foods, and exercise programs for youth so that children become habituated into healthier eating and exercise regimes (Hellmich, 2010).

In the first part of the 21st century, the United States is not particularly healthy, nor does the medical paradigm necessarily work to promote or produce health. Studies from such diverse groups as the Rand Corporation, the National Institute of Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the New England Journal of Medicine have all come to the same conclusion. Indeed, it is alarming to note that the trend toward obesity has exponentially risen in every single region of the United States since 1991, as reported by the "Get America Fit Foundation" (Obesity Related Statistics in America, 2008).

Issue and Population

America, and most of the developed world, now have a population that is significantly higher in older adults than ever before. Still, older adults are often marginalized and rarely interact with younger people, many believing "old people" have nothing to offer. Older adults have so much to give to the younger generations; so much advice that is continually transferable, but not always welcome. A recent study found that a majority of American youth and young adults did not hold a very positive view of the elderly. . In most societies, the elderly are revered, or at least respected for their age and experience. it's perplexing to think that the world's greatest country doesn't give the aged the deference that they've earned. When adults model little respect for the aged, children are more likely to adapt that same disrespect. However, one cannot simply blame adults, or society, for the negative views child hold about the aged. Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, noted that children's views about older people are primarily influenced by books, stories, songs and poem to which they were exposed to. A good example is a verse from a traditional folk song - Little wonder that young children, when exposed to such verse that is both evil and nonsensical, they might view the elderly as foolish and disposable? (American Library Association, 2007).

Significance of the Issue

There was a drastic rise in the number of births just after World War II, particularly in the United States as returning GIs took advantage of housing and educational programs and began to settle down and raise a family. This birthrate declined after the 1970s or so, resulting in various demographic "spikes" that will have implications in the global marketplace. For example: "the older population -- persons 65 years or older -- numbered 39.6 million in 2009. They represented 12.9% of the U.S. population, about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2000. People 65+ represented 12.4% of the population in the year 2000 but are expected to grow to be 19% of the population by 2030" (Aging Statistics, 2010). In fact, by 2050, almost 25% of persons in the United States will be 65 years of age or older (Dynamics of Population Aging in the Modern World, 2002).

Relevant Evidence

When individuals are active, different chemicals are produced to fuel the body's muscles (Chipperfield and Perry 2006). These chemicals combine with neurochemicals in a similar manner to those that are expressed when subjects find something amusing -- almost as if physical activity elicits a feeling of joy like a humorous story. Interestingly, in a recent study reported in the science journal Neuron, researchers found that there is truth in the old maxim, "laughter is the best drug." A team at Stanford researchers showed cartoons to 16 volunteers during a functional MRI. The cartoons seemed to activate the same reward centers as cocaine, an object of beauty, or receiving a reward. One area, the nucleus accumbens, lit up and remained active but stayed dark when the subject viewed something humorless or stopped moving (Pearson 2003). This area of the brain, in particular, has high amounts of dopamine. When triggered in combination with a physical activity, the release of dopamine compliments the other neurotransmitters causing the individual to associate positive pleasures with physical activity and learning and to retain that information longer (Emery, Schein, Hauck and MacIntyre 1998). Not only does this research buttress the idea of integrating physical activity with learning, it also has robust potential in helping to alleviate depression by chemically altering the brain (Mobbs 2003).

Additional studies show that besides dopamine, physical activity triggers healing chemicals. In a field known as psychoneuroimmuniology, researchers find that activity has a positive effect on boosting the immune system. It allows people to feel more comfortable in stressful situations, to make uncomfortable or unknown things more manageable, and to release fears, anger, and stress (Clarkson-Smith and Hartley 1989). As humans age, there are, of course, biological markers that signal cell death (skin, cognition, activity, cognition, etc.). Mitigating these through movement (exercise) has proven time and time again to be a powerful weapon against aging (Antsey and Smith, 1999).

Approach and Analysis

We cannot yet prevent aging, but we can assist in both preventative and remedial steps to make aging a more pleasant experience. When older adults are part of a health maintenance program of increased physical activity several things happen. First, their entire bodily functions improve -- digestion, sleep, movement, quality of life, etc. Second, weight loss and improved uptake of insulin reduces inflamtion. Thrid, the reduction of weight reduces stress on the bones, reducing arthtitis issues. Fourth, a combination of a healthy diet and a reduction in weight significantly reduces Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, and Heart Disease (Carnethon and Craft, 2008).

Based on the research, physical activity accomplishes six major components:

Activity, physical or humorous, contributes to the Mind/Body Balance -- Easies pain and anxiety, reduces stress, allows greater concentration and feelings of goodwill, peace, and far less worry or lonliness (Emery,,. 1992).

Activity maximizes brain power -- Since many aging adults no longer "exercise" their brains in the same way they did in their career, they often become lax, depressed, and lose their edge. Activity mitigates this (Wrosch,, 2002).

Activity promotes creativity -- for the brain, creativity allows for different ideas and ways of looking at things. The creative process flourishes when individuals are put into the mind set of divergent thinking and allowing humor to diminish anxiety (McAuley,, 2005)..

Activity and humor accentuate communication -- Tennse situations are alleviated, humor generates trust, humor allows for an approach that says, "I am just like you." This positive repetition has an exceptional benefit on the aged (McAuley,,, 2007).

Activity and humor support the Change Process- While the brain craves order and familiar patterns, there are many times during retirement and aging that change occurs. Most of us experience unexpected change, which sometimes handicapps us. Change is good, laughter and tears are closely related; using emotion to help drive change affects numerous regions of the brain at the same time, fostering growth (Morrison, 2009).

Thus, it is clear from the research that different types of activity tend to create an optimal environment for learning with the added benefit of increasing quality of life, decreasing the need for medication, protection against depression, and a host of other benefits. With just a bit of physical activity on a regular basis, most aging adults can significantly contribute to a more positive and robust lifestyle.


In order to continue to learn, there must be a strengthening of the way…