Are you as happy now as you were when you were younger? Do you have as much pep as you did last year? Your answer to these kind of questions concerning your views of self-aging can have tremendous implications for your health as you age.
We are unable to change many of our risk factors as we age — genetics, race, or even age itself. However, our attitude toward getting old is different. Becca Levy, a Yale researcher, has been studying the effects of a positive attitude toward aging for many years. The results will surprise you.
People who have a positive view of their aging actually live longer — a lot longer. Seven and a half years longer! It is very hard to find anything that has that large of an effect on longevity. People with positive age stereotypes are also more likely to fully recover from a severe disability. This means that after an illness or health event, positive people more often return to their prior level of living.
A positive self-aging attitude is also protective against dementia. Levy looked at aging attitudes of people with the gene that puts them at high risk for dementia. Positive people were nearly 50 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with negative attitudes. Holding positive age beliefs cut the incidence of dementia in a high risk population by half. Amazing.
If there were a drug with the only side effects being a longer, healthier life with a clear mind, we would all be on it. However, these findings give us something better than a new drug. We have the ability to change our aging trajectory by changing our aging views.
Our perspective on aging is shaped by many things including our culture, family, and past and current experience. It is difficult to unwind a lifetime of learning, but we can start simply. Be a consumer of positive news about older adults. The National Senior Games recently featured amazing athletes into their 100s who are defining new norms. Examples like this are not hard to find.
Seek engaged and vibrant people in your own community. Strive to be one of those people. Don’t use the “I’m too old” excuse. Resolve to become more active, or stronger, or more knowledgeable, or more involved. Find a way to do it. Positively put those extra 7.5 years to good use!
Tiffany Salido is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of The Movement Joint, a wellness studio offering safe, PT-led exercise classes individualized for people with joint and muscle pain, weakness, balance problems, fatigue, and mobility difficulties, or who want personalized guidance to begin their fitness journey. Find out more at themovementjoint.com or call 828-680-0422.