Activity theory of aging explained
Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth. It's more than the negative that you're going to die, it's also the positive that you understand you're going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.
― Mitch Albom
All human beings begin to age as soon as we are born. While the early years are spent by our bodies developing into fully functional adults, the later years involve a steady decline into degeneration. But it's not as grim as portrayed, since we do enjoy quite a few years before the commence of this decline, and it does have its fair share of good and bad aspects. One such appealing prospect is the opportunity to be as crazy or as eccentric as one wishes to be, without being at the receiving end of righteous judgment. Yes, aging means you can finally run out and admonish the young kids destroying your perfect lawn, all while brandishing your cane at them, and no one would even blink. You could offer blatant and brutal truths without offending anyone at all. You could be one of those witty grannies on television who are always ready with a smart and funny comeback. The flip side to aging, however, entails age-related health issues, loss of physical strength and stamina, and a psychological impact of the knowledge of one's close-approaching end.

Taking into account both these aspects, the concept of successful aging was formulated. This refers to the physical, mental, as well as social well-being of a person in old age. In order to determine how to achieve successful aging, various psycho-social theories have been put forward. These theories focus on the social and psychological aspects of a senior citizen's life, in order to define ways of attaining success at aging gracefully. There are three main such theories: continuity theory, disengagement theory, and activity theory. Each theory describes a different aspect of aging, and here, we will explore the effect of activity on aging.
Activity Theory of Aging
Senior couple
❍ From a psycho-social perspective, aging is the transformation of a person after the age of physical maturity has been reached, such that, the chances of their survival decreases, i.e., they grow old. As people grow older, they undergo drastic changes, the most obvious of which is their outer appearance. Along with this, due to the decline of their biological system, they also lose considerable body strength and dexterity. Their behavior changes according to the different things and situations that they experience. This is accompanied by a change in the way they think and perceive the world around them. With progressing age, their social roles also undergo a dramatic shift, from being an independent adult, to having a family, and finally becoming a senior citizen. It is in the context of such social roles that the activity theory is based. This theory is also called the implicit theory, normal theory, lay theory, or the move-to-live theory. Since it is a psycho social theory, it stresses on the effects of psychological and social interactions between individuals. It was conceived by American gerontologist Robert J. Havighurst, in 1961.
Alone old man
❍ In general, it is often seen that as a person's age progresses, he/she tends to disengage himself/herself from social commitments, drifting towards solitude as he/she realizes the impending nature of his/her demise. Since the role of any adult is to raise a family and provide for it, senior citizens, after retirement, face a conflict, since they have already filled this role, and have moved beyond it to a juncture where they do not possess any definite role to fulfill. This further contributes to their disengagement and self-inflicted separation from society.
Happy family
❍ With respect to this phenomenon, Havighurst proposed the activity theory of aging, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining social activities. The theory suggests that a person's self-identity is heavily dependent on the social roles played by the person and the social groups that the person interacts with. Hence, the more social an individual is, the better his/her sense of self, which in turn boosts self-esteem and the level of satisfaction with life. In cases where certain roles and groups are lost, they can be replaced by new roles and groups. But engaging in activities for the sake of interaction is not recommended. One should be doing things and interacting with people that bring happiness and enjoyment, whereas engaging in activities and interactions that are not enjoyable not only do not help, but are actually psychologically detrimental.
For example,
  • Senior citizens who miss being parents can enroll themselves in charity organizations that offer aid to the youth.
  • Those with an artistic bend can take up sketching, painting, pottery, etc.
  • If they miss being an office worker, they could volunteer at the town hall.
  • They can also take up new hobbies, go traveling, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Critics of the theory, however, point out that maintaining social interactions is not always feasible, as these events need an investment of time, effort, and money, and hence, in case of people with financial or health problems, these interactions cannot be continued. Despite this, years of research have proven that consistent activity of aging people works to increase their sense of self-worth, and brings them happiness.