We’ve all heard the adage “age is nothing but a number.” Life is a little more complicated than this quote allows but there is truth in the saying. As we know, how we think impacts how we feel and vice versa. The same principle applies to our view of aging.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “old?” Do you picture a wrinkly, forgetful person who suffers from some kind of chronic ailment? Don’t feel bad if this is the vision that came to you because that is the one presented to us.
Portrayals of older people in television and movies rely on a very specific formula. The characters are typically either inept or laughable to the point that they are the butt of the joke. These depictions matter because they program into us a negative view of getting older.
In 2005, researchers at Yale studied a group of 76 television viewers. Participants who watched the most television had a more negative view of aging than those who were less-frequent viewers. This is significant because we’re being conditioned to believe that getting older is always a terrible experience and if we take that information to heart then we’ve set ourselves on the path to subconsciously create that future destiny.
It’s important to realize that aging is often a very positive experience. With age comes wisdom and a greater understanding of the world and our place in it. Most of us tend to slow down. That doesn’t mean we give up, it means we’re less stressed and better able to take life in stride. A lot of older folks are physically active, maybe not at the same level, but they still go for runs and do other activities.
Changing how we think about getting “old” can have a profound impact on our health. In a separate study at Yale, researchers asked more than 600 people aged 50 and older to complete a survey about their perceptions of aging. The results are incredible. Participants who held a positive outlook had lower instances of cardiac disease, better memory than their more negative counterparts, and were more likely to recover from illness or injury.
The biggest finding – those with a healthier view of aging lived longer. The median survival rate for this group was an astonishing 7.5 years longer! To put this into perspective, a person with low cholesterol or low blood pressure can expect to live four years longer than someone who has these issues. Simply put, changing our beliefs about aging appears to be a greater indicator of longevity than many other factors including socioeconomic background and gender.
Of course, we know how we think impacts how we feel. Why then, do we continue to assign gloom and doom to a process that doesn’t have a predetermined outcome? It could be that we associate getting older with getting closer to dying. Sadly, it’s this association that sends many to an early grave.
So, what do we do? The first step is to take an honest look at where you are in your life. Do you forget something trivial like where you put your keys and chalk it up to having a senior moment? Making this kind of leap without the proper evidence only further enables this habit of believing that your life is dictated by your age. Once you start reinforcing this belief system it’s only matter of time before your body and mind start to behave accordingly.
That doesn’t mean you should swing to the opposite extreme and sign up to climb Everest when you have a heart condition. Your days of climbing mountains aren’t over but you may want to go with something a little easier. It’s all about understanding and acknowledging your limitations and finding a way to make them work for you.
In the end all of us need to decide what we want our future to look like. If you can imagine what that life looks, sounds, and feels like then you can start to live it now. And when you do, you’ll find that whether you’re 71 or 17, age is really nothing but a number.