“Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” — Betty Friedan
How do you feel about growing older?
For some, it’s a frightening prospect filled with anxiety about what may change. However, it doesn’t need to be. As we grow older, the way we think, talk, and write about aging can have direct effects on our health. With that in mind, the oft-used phrase “think positive” takes on new meaning.
Becca Levy, a psychologist from the Yale School of Public Health, has researched the effects of attitude on aging for the past 20 years. She found those who expressed a positive attitude toward aging lived an average of 7 ½ years longer than those who viewed aging with a more negative perception.
People with positive attitudes about aging experience higher rates of recovery from illness and injury, have better brain performance and improved memory, have a greater sense of independence, and are more likely to be proactive about health problems, getting preventive care and pursuing health programs.
And for those who think a cheery self-talk about growing older won’t make a difference?
That’s why we need to think bigger.
Even with the knowledge that positive thinking can affect our physical well-being as we age, maintaining such an outlook can be challenging due to the prevalence of ageism in our society. Ageism is embedded in the workplace, health care, language, and media, with common stereotypes depicting old age as a time of poor health and exclusion. These stereotypes can be pervasive, capable of affecting an individual’s self-image and actions.
The World Health Organization will soon publish the results of a global investigation on ageism, including ways to fight it. Levy, a contributor to the report, found that something as simple as subliminal exposure to age-positive words can lead to physical improvements in health.
The idea is that, when incorporated into our everyday lives, especially on a subconscious level, positive age labels can overturn long-held negative ones. Getting into the habit of using such age-related words as “accomplished” and “sage,” rather than negative words like “incompetent” and “decline,” can make a difference — for both ourselves and others.
A more positive attitude toward aging can lead to improvements in memory, balance, overall quality of life, and even longevity. Challenge yourself and others to embrace the idea of positivity and help promote positive perceptions of aging!