Aging Well and Taking Names

Dr. Marcia Ory shares her refreshingly optimistic advice and experience on aging well. Spoiler alert: It’s not as scary as you think!

    By Anna Cairns ’20 ’23
  • Illustration by Paul Blow
  • May. 16, 2022
    3 min read

Public health expert Dr. Marcia Ory has a mission: to help people understand that aging is something we do at all stages of life. For younger people, she recommends reframing negative or oversimplistic mindsets about getting older. “On average, older adults do have more chronic diseases, chronic illnesses and disabilities,” Ory said, “but not all older people are the same. There are exceptional people running marathons at 90 while others the same age are bedbound in a skilled nursing facility.”

Ory is a principal faculty member of Texas A&M’s Center for Population Health and Aging, which aims to improve public health through research, education and practice. Studies have shown that if you have a negative attitude about other people aging, it will likely affect your own health and longevity. Healthy aging prioritizes a good quality of life every day, whether you are 20 or 100. And good news: Most of the factors that contribute to long-term health are within your control, such as exercise, diet and a robust social network.

You can still buy anti-wrinkle cream, but there’s a lot more about healthy aging than what’s on the surface. Ory offered her advice on navigating your own journey through time:

Take a dose of reality.

If you ignore aging, saying, “I’m only 25! I won’t be old for another 60 years,” you aren’t acknowledging that you are already aging. It’s important to be ready to live a long time these days because life expectancy is increasing.

Fatalism is passÉ.

While genetics does affect health and longevity, it has a much smaller influence than your lifestyle and environment. Instead of fretting about the quirks in your DNA that you cannot control, focus on what you can.

Your habits matter.

Lifestyle behavior, in contrast, plays a huge role in quality of life down the line. Negative behaviors like smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet may not cause a disease at 20, but they can later be associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Start small and start soon.

It is never too late to start adopting healthier behavior, and it is always too soon to quit. Being proactive about your physical health by eating healthy, drinking lots of water and going to the doctor regularly are all ways to take charge of your quality of life.

Get physical.

The Center for Population Health and Aging reminds adults that nearly everyone can meet national recommendations for moderate to intense physical activity for at least 30 minutes daily. If you already suffer from muscle or heart conditions, safe exercise may improve your symptoms.

Check your surroundings.

Another critical component of aging is the environment in which you live, which also includes your social environment. Safely riding a bike or hiking an urban trail is good for your physical health, while having a robust social life benefits your overall health and longevity. Try to stay socially connected, find new hobbies and give back to your community. 

Make a Donation: Ready to promote population health at every age? The Marcia G. Ory Endowed Scholarship for Healthy Aging is given annually to a student active in promoting health for aging populations in Texas. To learn more, contact Karen Slater '88.

Meet Dr. Marcia Ory

Dr. Marcia Ory has been studying aging for 40 years. A Regents and Distinguished Professor in Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health, she is an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Population Health and Aging. She holds social science, human development and public health degrees from The University of Texas, Indiana University, Purdue University and Johns Hopkins University. She previously spent 20 years at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.