How you view aging may change how you age
October 25, 11:00 PM By Elizabeth Millard
Those who view aging as a process of gradual decline and disability tend to have more difficult health issues, while those who see aging as a opportunity may have significantly fewer health problems, according to a growing body of research.
Summed up in an article in The Wall Street Journal, these studies note that the body responds to both negative and positive stereotypes. Those who see getting older as a bad thing may be doing potentially serious harm to their health without realizing it.
For example, researchers noted in a recent study that older individuals who were subliminally exposed to positive messages about aging showed long-term improvements in strength, balance and self-image. Those researchers concluded, "Negative age stereotypes that older individuals assimilate from their culture predict detrimental outcomes, including worse physical function."
Becca Levy, lead author of that study, told The Wall Street Journal that negative stereotypes about aging are a public-health issue. She said, "What people aren't aware of is that they have the ability to overcome and resist negative stereotypes and compensate for the ill effects of automatic ageism."
Numerous, other studies have also found associations between perceptions on aging and detrimental outcomes. Research has noted that reduced walking speed, potentially earlier mortality and mental health issues may all be influenced by an individual's outlook.
Even societal and cultural cues might play a part. For instance, in societies where menopause is seen as a positive transition, there is a much lower rate of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and insomnia, according to a Reuters Health article.
For those who might need help changing their perceptions about aging, The Wall Street Journal suggests several strategies, including recognition of stereotypes in everyday life – such as media images – and an understanding of personal beliefs. The article noted, "The key is to hold both positive and negative in balance and really understand and own the aging process."