To Slow the Aging Process, Preserve Your Sense of Purpose

Experts recommend staying engaged and active in whatever interests you.​


Published:

Sue Claire Harper is plenty busy as chair of the League of Women Voters in Sussex County's Land Use Committee, but she finds the time to “treat herself” to classes at UD.//Leslie Barbaro

 

Though Phoebe Cottingham will be 81 in June, the highly trained economist with a pair of advanced degrees who worked for the federal government for six years still feels like she’s in college.

As she goes through her days at Independence, a 55-and-over community in Millsboro, she has the kind of interactions that remind her of her undergraduate days at Penn State, when people came together for a variety of activities. Her friends and neighbors at her community provide a social web that allows her to remain vibrant, even as the years pile up. By staying connected, Cottingham fills her days with friendship and a strong sense of purpose.

“Our community is like going to college,” she says. “Getting to know people is fun, but you have to be ready to do that.”

Creating connections

For years, people have spoken about aging gracefully, but that term has been a generally nebulous designation without much concrete definition. These days, it’s easier to understand how people like Cottingham successfully ward off time’s advances. While there is no broad-based formula that applies to everyone, simply because there are too many variables due to health and other factors, there are several characteristics shared by those who remain vibrant and energized during their senior years. The ability to connect with others and have the ability to engage in interests is especially important.

“I’ve always been a very active person,” says Cottingham, who is the president of the East Sussex Republican Club. “I worked full time until I was 72.”

Diet, exercise and managing health issues are vital parts of navigating the aging process successfully. But current studies indicate that having a sense of purpose and being engaged socially can be just as important. Older people need a positive mental outlook just as much as they require physical health and stamina. It’s a blend of specifics—eating right, remaining on the move—and intangibles—having friends and reasons to feel necessary—that can produce a rewarding twilight.

According to a 2017 study of 6,000 people over the age of 50 published in JAMA Psychiatry, those who had a sense of purpose in their daily lives had less possibility of losing strength in their grips and developing slower walks—two significant indications of aging. Further, those with increased purpose took better care of themselves, paid greater attention to their diets and exercise needs and had more positive outlooks on life—huge benefits when time conspires to make the body ache and falter.

“The research we are doing supports the idea that a person should have a sense of purpose,” says Dr. James Ellison, the Swank Foundation endowed chair in Memory Care and Geriatrics at Christiana Care. “That has been my clinical experience as well. A person’s sense of purpose can decline with age. Having a sense of purpose has been associated in research with a number of improved results, such as self-reported health, immune system response, optimism and decreased depression and loneliness,” says Ellison.

Sue Claire Harper stays engaged by taking classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UD.//Leslie Barbaro

Staying social

Just as Cottingham is involved with the East Sussex Republicans, 70-year-old Sue Claire Harper has had an ongoing stint as chair of the League of Women Voters in Sussex County's Land Use Committee. A registered nurse who worked for decades with patients who suffered spinal cord and brain injuries, Harper moved to Delaware in January 2011. While looking for information about an upcoming election, she connected with the League and became fascinated with the issues of the day.

“You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem,” Harper says.

Harper’s commitment to the League can be up to 40 hours a week, and she is active in a variety of projects that the league promotes. She is involved in the county’s comprehensive plan, which it undertakes every 10 years and is an organizer of forums that bring together citizens and experts to discuss a variety of issues. She also takes classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Delaware and was most recently delighted to learn about issues facing India from a former Indian ambassador.

“They are a source of sheer joy for me,” she says of the classes. “That’s my treat to myself.”

Harper’s high level of engagement provides her with plenty of reason to greet each day with enthusiasm and provides a strong social connection that experts believe is vital for those trying to temper the negative effects of aging.

“A strong social life is a good distraction,” says Dr. Preeti Gupta, a physician at Bayhealth Primary Care in Milford. “Having a circle of family and friends allows people to live better. They don’t stay in one place and think about their anxiety and worry about whether their grandchildren are having problems.”

Being engaged and adding purpose to their lives can help seniors greatly. But there are other behaviors that can contribute greatly to successful aging. One is the ability to get good sleep. That may seem impossible for many older folks, since a variety of circumstances and conditions inhibit the ability to get sustained rest. The good news, is that according to Gupta, people in their 70s and 80s require less sleep than do those who are younger.

Getting on track

So, how to get it? The term “sleep hygiene” has become popular in recent years, and it is quite important for older Americans. It is important to have a routine at bedtime that signals to the body that sleep is imminent. As it is for teenagers, a heavy dose of screen time before bed can be counterproductive, as can caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Having a consistent bedtime is important, as is a regular time to rise. And when sleep does not come easily, don’t linger in bed getting more anxious.

“If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something relaxing,” suggests Dr. Gina Facciolo, from the Beebe Family Practice in Rehoboth Beach. “And don’t use your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex.”

As the body ages, exercise becomes ever more important. It doesn’t just build stamina and keep muscles toned; it also helps build balance and stability, which can ward off dangerous falls. Being physically active also helps promote emotional health. Being on the move creates a sense of accomplishment, while also oxygenating the blood and helping release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings throughout the body. The exercise doesn’t have to be hard-core aerobic or heavy weight training. Ellison reports that stretching is also important for older people to help  increase flexibility and balance. He cautions that all people should speak with a physician to find out what level of exercise they can tolerate. He also reminds people that there are many ways to increase activity, such as parking further from a store and walking or carrying some packages or bags from the car.

“Exercise at every age is important for good health,” Ellison says. “It improves the metabolism, lowers blood pressure and stimulates the growth of new brain cells.”

Don’t forget about diet. Ellison recommends the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat oils. One doesn’t have to follow a rigid pattern, but it is important to fill the body with as many good things as possible. Doing so helps ward off illness and fuel the furnace with materials that help foster a healthy, active lifestyle.

“I was never a believer in fads,” Cottingham says. “I know what agrees with me. I have learned by experience. You know to do it in moderation,” she says.

And keep doing it—for as many years as possible.

Editors' note: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that Sue Claire Harper is the president of the League of Women Voters of Sussex County (LWVSC). Harper is the chair of the LWVSC's Land Use Committee. Martha Redmond is LWVSC's current president. We regret the error. 

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January 2019

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More information

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
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More information

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Cost: $25–$45

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Cost: 0.00

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View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
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2301 Kentmere Parkway
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
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2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
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200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 130-265-66466

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Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Delve deep into the watercolors and biography of Barbara Bodichon on a tour with Curator Margaretta Frederick. 

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

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The Connected Series engages local creative community members to produce art-based programs at the Museum. Join us for appetizers, cash bar, and short introduction to the Connected Series followed...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

More information

Three times James Beard Best Chef Semi-Finalist to cook at The Whist! LIMITED seating. Owner of a(MUSE) and Grampa(MAC) in Rehoboth, DE. Five to six courses with chef-selected wine pairings. The...

Cost: $200/person

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
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More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thurs., 1/24 from 5 PM to 9 PM Friends Members Only (membership available at the door for $10)  Fri., 1/25 from 9 AM to 9 PM  Sat.,...

Cost: $10 on Thursday night; free the rest of the weekend

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Friends of the Hockessin Library
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through discovery, exploration, and hands-on experiences.Ages 2 and up. Visit delart.org for list of books. ...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thurs., 1/24 from 5 PM to 9 PM Friends Members Only (membership available at the door for $10)  Fri., 1/25 from 9 AM to 9 PM  Sat.,...

Cost: $10 on Thursday night; free the rest of the weekend

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Friends of the Hockessin Library
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Mr. Nathan Avakian from New York City will be performing on the 4th Largest Theatre Pipe Organ in the world  selections of comtemporary popular music along with Broadway and...

Cost: $20 Adults, $12.00 Students under 21

Where:
The Dickinson Theatre at John Dickinson High Schoo
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: The Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-5630
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Stung by personal, political, and economic setbacks, a young, urban couple build an off-the-grid, tiny house in an isolated mountain paradise…or so they...

Cost: 15-32

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Telephone: 302-831-2204
Website »

More information

This workshop will explore using pieces to create a larger whole. Using multiple small and simple objects, students will stack, hang, layer, or weave them into a larger sculptural...

Cost: $55 Members, $70 Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

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