Webinar series battles ageism during Healthy Aging Month          

By Nandika Chatterjee, Staff Writer

The month of September promotes and celebrates healthy aging. In order to draw attention to this cause, the Extension Family Life (University of Illinois Extension) team started the Discover Healthy Series.

The Discover Healthy Aging Series is a webinar series targeted at the general public to cover topics designed to promote and educate people about aging as a healthy and positive process. The series targets the general public, with special considerations for middle-aged to older adults.

The team already offered a ‘wellness’ webinar series since the beginning of the pandemic. Starting the ‘age’ conversation was another step in the direction of health awareness. The topics they covered were designed to both inform and provide emotional support to listeners.

Molly Hofer, a family life educator with the University of Illinois Life Extension, has worked as an educator in Chicago and suburban Cook County for 28 years. She said, “Our topic offerings such as resilience, motivation, health, goal setting and even humor can help participants reflect on their own lives and determine what changes they can make, if any, to help them live their best lives.”

Hofer also corrected that stereotypes regarding age are not limited to a single generation. However, older adults and teens seem to face the brunt of judicious ideologies. That being said, in general, there are both positive and negative associations regarding aging. The real problem occurs when individuals begin to make generalizations.

Chelsey Byer Gerstenecker is another University of Illinois Family Life Educator serving in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion Counties. She was co-presenting two of the four sessions.

She said, “We wanted to not only highlight healthy aging but promote healthy attitudes towards aging. Our first session brought that home with focusing on the positive aspects of aging, the opportunities, factors that influence aging well and addressing ageism across the lifespan. Ageism can be towards youth as well as our older population.”

Fellow Family Life Educator Cheri Burcham assisted in the development and delivery of the sessions that make up the series and co-facilitated the first session on positive aging. She seemed to agree with Hofer and Byer.

She said, “The first session titled ‘I’m Positive, I’m Aging’ really dealt with that head-on about how aging is usually considered in a negative light and that we really need to get past that mindset.”

The webinar has had an excellent response from the public so far. Burcham said “We’ve had over 500 registrants for the series so there is certainly an interest. I co-facilitated the first session on positive aging, and it was amazing to see that there were participants tuning in from all over the U.S., and the immediate feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive.”

Awareness is the first step toward promoting a different outlook toward issues regarding health and age. Burcham said, “I feel it is important because it serves several purposes – it can be motivational, it can remind people that aging is mostly attitude and you are never too old to accomplish your dreams, and it is educational in that the sessions provide resources for people to age in a healthy way – some will say age ‘successfully.’”

Aging is a natural process. Hofer said it was unfortunate that aging is something that most people don’t think about too much until they are older adults. All of us embark on the process of aging from the day we are born.

“It is the journey that matters most. Taking care to gracefully glide into your golden days depends a lot on your lifestyle,” Hofer said.

Byers said there are a couple of guidelines everyone can follow to make themselves healthier. He said to sleep well and enough, eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise, make sure to manage stress well, develop a strong social life and challenge your intellect. These are steps that can be taken by people of any age.

Sharing similar sentiments, with Byers, Burcham said, “Aging is truly all in your attitude and this series shows that if you practice optimism, have a purpose, stay connected to others, incorporate humor in your life, and always strive to learn new things and do things you really want – no matter how small – that you can truly enjoy the process and your journey.”

While the program has already begun, they have plenty of sessions for everyone to join in and listen to. The remaining programs highlight the benefits of humor (Thursday), finding motivation when times are tough (Sept. 17) and the importance of having personal goals (Sept. 24).

Hofer aptly concluded, “We all have similarities, as well as differences, and chronological age is only one contributing factor or characteristic.”

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