Aging Successfully with San Diego Oasis
by maria weidich
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, all baby boomers will be older than 65 by 2030. At that time, one in every five U.S. residents is expected to be at retirement age. So the data is clear, our older population is on the rise.
As life expectancy increases and this rapidly expanding demographic grows, what influences how successfully they’ll age? San Diego Oasis President and CEO Simona Valanciute asks, "What makes one older person energetic and vivacious and another frail and lackluster about living? What’s the secret sauce?”
Spoiler alert: it’s not just good genes and good luck.
While longevity can be hereditary, aging is a multifactorial process heavily influenced by things we can control, like environment and lifestyle. Successful aging combines three components: stimulating cognitive function, maintaining physical health, and creating strong social relationships.
Since 1987, San Diego Oasis has promoted successful aging for adults aged 50+ by applying these exact three principles. Through its evidence-based programs designed to empower, engage, and enhance its members' lives, the award-winning non-profit has helped thousands of older adults on their path to healthy longevity.
Mental Health: Be a Lifelong Learner
Maintaining good cognitive health by keeping the mind sharp, active, and alert is the first component of healthy aging. The opportunities to learn are limitless at San Diego Oasis. While there are no certifications or degrees, the organization is essential in operating a university for adults who are lifelong learners, strictly for the joy of it.
“We strive to make sure everyone finds something that interests them,” Simona said. Offering over 3,000 classes annually, San Diego Oasis members are delighted with subjects in every imaginable area: arts, business, technology education, exercise, health and wellness, history, music, theater, language, personal enrichment, and so much more.
Physical Health: Keep Moving
Even with limited mobility, exercise helps avoid disease and disability and is essential to maintaining physical health while aging. San Diego Oasis offers physical education and fitness classes all day, every day. In addition to familiar classes like tai chi, meditation, and yoga, members are also offered more unusual ways to stay active. “We try to offer a lot of choices to create joy and meet the objective of lifelong learning,” Simona said. We have classes that are just really fun, too, like ballet for seniors, cardio drumming, and international dancing.”
Physical health isn’t just about physical activity, either. Oasis provides numerous educational classes and workshops on various health topics like diet and nutrition, pain and stress management, fall prevention, and more.
Social Health: Create Meaningful Relationships
Cultivating a sense of purpose through meaningful social and community interactions is often overlooked as a part of healthy aging. “We need to feel needed and that we belong,” Simona explained. “Your brain is okay, your body is fine, but we need a meaningful purpose that gets us out of bed in the morning.”
Volunteering and getting involved in the community is a simple approach to social engagement that positively impacts longevity. In addition, having a social network can protect against feelings of loneliness and social isolation, two conditions often seen in older age.
San Diego Oasis offers a unique opportunity for its members to connect and engage with the community through its many intergenerational programs. For example, through the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program, volunteers, nearby elementary schools, and San Diego Oasis work together to help children build reading skills, self-esteem, and positive attitudes toward learning.
“Who is the winner in that intergenerational scenario?” Simona asked. “Everyone! Everyone comes out a winner. Intergenerational experiences are not a one-way street. It’s benefiting both generations by connecting them on meaningful work.”
Growing With Its Members
As the leader in healthy longevity for over 35 years, San Diego Oasis has proven valuable in its La Mesa and Escondido communities. To better serve the rapidly growing senior population, the organization is excited to expand with its Rancho Bernardo location opening in June.
The two-story, 20,000-square-foot facility boasts to be the largest, most comprehensive center of excellence for older adults and intergenerational programs with many opportunities its current members have grown to love.
The Rancho Bernardo location will also integrate new and cutting-edge offerings for members. A demonstration kitchen for hands-on experience in cooking creations, a 400-person lecture hall for speakers and events, a peaceful Zen-like outdoor patio, an extra-large game room, and a state-of-the-art innovation center to expand on technology education will all be offered.
Simona likened Oasis’ growth to that of the YMCA. “We didn’t have a YMCA in every community serving young families and children, but we decided it’s important, and now we do.” She hopes Oasis will continue to serve our country’s growing aging population similarly.
“The data is so clear,” Simona said. “We’re tripling the demographic of our senior population. Levitin looks at the science behind what we all can learn from those who age joyously, as well as how to adapt our culture to take full advantage of older people’s wisdom and experience. Throughout his exploration of what aging really means, using research from developmental neuroscience and the psychology of individual differences, Levitin reveals resilience strategies and practical, cognitive- enhancing tricks everyone should do as they age.
Successful Aging inspires a powerful new approach to how readers think about our final decades, and it will revolutionize the way we plan for old age as individuals, family members, and citizens within a society where the average life expectancy continues to rise.
We’re all going to be older adults one day. We all need to be working together and sharing knowledge if we are going to serve older adults in the way that they need to be served. If we don’t set up the landscape to be a friendly one, then it’s not going to be there.”
“If I ruled the world, I’d instruct every doctor to prescribe Oasis,” Simona laughed. “If you have a patient who is not thriving or not stimulated enough, tell them they need to go to Oasis,” she chuckled. “I don’t care what you do there; you just need to do something.”
Experience the pillars of successful aging at one of San Diego Oasis’ three facilities: La Mesa, Escondido, and Rancho Bernardo. Learn more at SanDiegoOasis.org.
Excerpt from Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel J. Levitin
"Don’t retire. Don’t stop being engaged with meaningful work. Look forward. Don’t look back. (Reminiscing doesn’t promote health.) Exercise. Get your heart rate going, preferably in nature. Embrace a moderated lifestyle with healthy practices. Keep your social circle exciting and new. Spend time with people younger than you. See your doctor regularly, but not obsessively. Don’t consider yourself old (other than taking prudent precautions). Appreciate your cognitive strengths—pattern recognition, crystallized intelligence, wisdom, and accumulated knowledge. Promote cognitive health through experiential learning: traveling, spending time with grandchildren, and immersing yourself in new activities and situations. Do new things.""Daniel J. Levitin
Printed in the July 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine San Diego