Beyond longevity, what are the indicators of successful aging

The Bottom Line

  • The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
  • Coping style, resilience, economic stress and lifestyle, social interactions, culture and genetics shape our personality and influence what we each want.
  • Life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, social acceptance and financial security are important and interdependent factors enabling older adults to age 'successfully'.

What is successful aging? Is it, as some research models suggest, “the absence of illness and disability, high cognitive and physical functioning and active engagement in life”? Is it blowing out 100 candles? Or is it rather a holistic set of subjective criteria linked to each person's life experience and expectations?

Researchers are increasingly realizing that the “academic” definition of successful aging is not flexible and does not take into account what older adults themselves consider to be truly important. For example, when community-dwelling older adults are asked about the elements that contribute to successful aging, longevity is not at the top of the list, if at all!

Do older people consider longevity to be synonymous with successful aging?

What research tells us

A systematic review of 18 articles focused on indicators of successful aging according to seniors. More than 9,000 adults aged 60 and over were surveyed.(1) The indicators were grouped into six main domains: psychological, physical, environmental, social, spiritual and behavioral.

The results reveal that:

- The psychological and physical domains contribute the most to the feeling of having successfully aged. Good mental health is central to the vision of successful aging: being mentally active and independent, being able to make decisions for oneself, meeting intellectual challenges and maintaining a positive attitude in the face of inevitable changes.

- Regular physical activities help prevent and sometimes even treat many age-related problems. Most seniors want to be healthy to avoid depending on others. Consequently, they modify their lifestyle or take the medications required to maintain their physical, psychological and cognitive faculties.

- A healthy lifestyle includes the following: daily routine, regular physical activities and exercises, social engagement, healthy eating, maintaining an appropriate body weight, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.

- Friendship, family and community relationships are the pillars of fulfilling aging.

- Engaging in meaningful activities, whether it's a yoga class, a bingo session, a music or cooking class, provides a sense of acceptance and meaning, helps reduce loneliness and helps one feel adapt to age-related physical decline by improving self-image and psychological well-being. No need to travel far: watching television, following the news and talking on the phone are also activities that have positive effects on the satisfaction of older people.

- A common characteristic of people who consider themselves to have succeeded in “aging well” is their ability to adapt to changes. Whether emotionally, physically or socially, mental flexibility and the ability to accept life's ups and downs play a crucial role: people who view aging as part of the natural cycle of life actively seek ways to adapt and enjoy life despite challenges.

- Most elderly people want to age in place. Adapting their home to make indoor and outdoor spaces accessible and safe is sometimes the solution to “successful” aging.

- Some studies have found that spiritual activities in the broad sense are also an indicator of satisfaction for older people.

You can take action to “age well”!

Pursue your passions and interests! Whether it’s painting, gardening, writing, reading, sharing your life stories or getting involved in social causes, stay active! Aging well is different for each of us and does not have the same meaning everywhere in the world. There is no right or wrong way to age: there is only yours!

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Author Details


  1. Kallol Kumar Bhattacharyya, Victor Molinari & Ross Andel (2023) Longevity is not an ingredient of successful aging as self-reported by community-dwelling older adults: A scoping review, Aging & Mental Health, 27:2, 217-229, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2022.2033696

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.