Friday, 16 January 2015
Your Perception of Aging Affects Your Health
The more comfortable you are with growing old, the better your health is likely to be. But it's not easy in the United States and many other western countries to resist the incessant drumbeat for the primacy of youth including such real daily headlines as this: The Secret to Staying Young and Being Happy.
Wrong as the “staying young” phrase is, it's that “being happy” part at the end that enrages me. According to the shaming aging merchants, it is not possible to be both old and happy.
The evidence that internalizing belief in such ageist rubbish will cut years off your life has been growing as I've reported here when new studies emerge.
Last week, Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and a primary care physician at The Emory Clinic, wrote a good overview of the evidence titled 5 Powerful Benefits of “Pro-Aging” Thinking atcnn.com. A couple of excerpts:
”Being 'pro-aging,' or satisfied with your own aging, can make you adopt healthier behaviors, feel in control of how you age and even heighten your immune system. Being 'anti-aging,' or perceiving aging negatively, can do the opposite.”
Dr. Bergquist starts off with some results researchers at Yale and Harvard found in the now well-known Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement:
”They measured how self-perception of aging impacted survival over the course of 22.6 years. They found that participants who held a more positive attitude about their own aging - such as continuing to feel useful and happy - lived, on average, 7.5 years longer.”
Bergquist cites another important longitudinal study shows about how a positive attitude toward aging can boost memory in old people.
“According to The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the longest-running study of memory and aging, expecting memory decline can actually contribute to memory loss over time.
“Over a 38-year period, participants 60 years of age and older who held more negative stereotypes of cognitive aging had a 30.2% greater decline in memory performance than those who held less negative stereotypes about memory and aging.”
Even a physician as enlightened as this one has her lapses as when she writes that “Looking and feeling young as you age begins with believing you can look and feel young as you age.”
If you have been around the blog for awhile, you know that I reject references to looking or feeling “young” because there is nothing wrong – or should not be - with being old.
When people like Dr. Bergquist fall in to that feeling-young-when-old trap, what they really mean wellbeing in old age and as she otherwise points one, one of the best ways to make that so is to believe there is nothing wrong with being old.
”That isn't always easy,” she writes. “Western cultural and religious roots of ageism are deeply entrenched in the Protestant work ethic and the American Dream, both of which value youth by defining personal worth in terms of active engagement in work...
“Start determining your aging prophecy today by celebrating and embracing each year, both for the triumphs and the hardships that it may bring.”
Dr. Bergquist's is the best synopsis of the research associated with healthy attitudes toward aging I've seen lately. You should read the whole thing – it's not long.