You might have heard that age ain’t nothin’ but a number and that you can think yourself young. New research backs up those claims a bit. Having positive views on aging can lead to a healthier, longer life. Having negative beliefs about aging have the opposite impact.
People who see aging as a process that allows you to grow, experience more and learn, enjoy better health through their 90s. People who believe that aging means an inevitable decline in health and becoming dependent experience more signs of aging, even on a cellular level. While the link between the mind and body has long been known, this new research adds more evidence that your outlook on health impacts your physical wellbeing.
In an older study on Alzheimer’s, researchers tracked 4,765 people for four years. People who had a favorable view of aging and expected good health were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. That was true even if they have the gene that makes a person more suspectable to the disease.
People who have a worse view on aging tend to react to minor health setbacks with a negative reaction, perhaps thinking that it’s the beginning of things inevitably going “downhill.” That can lead to stress, inflammation, worse blood pressure and other reactions that can harm the body. People with positive views take it in their stride and continue to move forward. It can be seen on a cellular level.
Often when you see headlines about people who have made it to extraordinary ages, they’ll tell you the “secret” to a long life. We saw one just this week about a 106-year-old woman who said the trick was that she eats a Big Mac every week after church. The secret is often like that: beer, cigars and other things we know logically aren’t healthy. It’s possible that what really helps these people is that they don’t take aging seriously.
The researchers do stress that this doesn’t mean you should ignore your health concerns or fake a smile. Health needs do change as we get older. However, they said that your views on aging were like a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
If someone has a negative view on aging, Prof. Karen Hooker of Oregon State Univ. said they “should create positive images of themselves in the future as older adults.” She was a co-author on the new study and said that the imagined “hoped-for” version of you will help to counterbalance the “feared for” version of yourself.
“Our self-perceptions of aging could be a modifiable resilience factor shaping our mental and physical health later in life,” she said.
So, there is some truth to the saying that you are only as old as you feel. It might be time to reevaluate your views on aging and reimagine where you see yourself years from now!