Would you like to add years to your life, years of quality living? Most of us would.
There are several ways to do this. Exercise, diet and stress reduction are common strategies, for people of any age, but they are not the only ones.
Research has shown that you may be able to add 7.5 years to your life by changing how you see yourself in the world. This has been explained by Yale University professor, Dr. Becca Levy, in her new book, Breaking the Age Code (2022).
These research findings are not about general positive thinking. They are centered around changing our beliefs about ageing itself.
When we see seniors portrayed in a negative light on television or around us in the community, we have every right to feel offended. Ageism and negative stereotypes about seniors are all around us.
They hurt when we encounter them. But they can be even more harmful when we internalize them and believe them to be true about ourselves. It turns out that they can be harmful not only to our self-esteem, to our health and longevity as well.
In her book, Dr. Levy gives us a real-life example.
Dr. Levy’s grandmother, a competitive golfer and avid walker, bumped into a crate, inappropriately left in the middle of a grocery store aisle. She cut her leg but didn’t think much of it. The owner of the store saw blood on her leg, and when she explained what had happened, he blamed her and her age.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be walking around. It’s not my fault old people fall down all the time,” he said.
These words struck home with Dr. Levy’s grandmother. For the next several days, she lost trust in herself. She stopped driving and requested extra assistance from others. She was questioning her own competency as an older person in a way she had never done before.
Fortunately, these changes to her self-image were short-lived. Soon, she was back to her regular active lifestyle. But this example shows how hurtful biased comments from others can have lingering effects on one’s independence and health.
Imagine how harmful it would have been if Dr. Levy’s grandmother had kept buying into these distorted beliefs about herself.
In her book, Dr. Levy reviewed studies showing that older people with more positive perceptions of ageing or more likely to recover from severe disability, have better memory, walk faster and even live longer.
She also found evidence that positive age beliefs can even act as a buffer against developing dementia in people who carry the dreaded Alzheimer’s gene. This research is in the early stages, but the possibilities are very exciting.
In general, there are two kinds of beliefs that can hurt us:
Here are some big ones: older people are out of touch, less productive, less capable, more needy, more stuck in their ways.
These ideas may be true for some individuals, at any age. They may even be true about ourselves, some of the time.
They become problematic when we assume that they are true without knowing anything about the individual. To be fair, each individual needs to be viewed as an individual. This is more accurate, obviously, and avoids what my daughter calls a sweeping generalization.
Here are a few examples that you might have applied to yourself.
I am not very good at technology, because I am older. You may not be very good at technology, but it is not necessarily because you’re older. It is important to challenge these assumptions and look for alternate explanations.
For instance, younger people have a big advantage when it comes to learning technology, because, at their stage in life, they may be able to devote hours and hours to learning and practice.
As I get older, I get less productive. Maybe this is true for you as an individual. Or maybe, your priorities, and hence your efforts, have changed over the years. Maybe there is less need for you to be driven to achieve in the workplace. Maybe now, for you as an individual, it is more important to spend time with your family and grandchildren.
You are still productive, but in other ways, of your choosing.
Changing your mindset about ageing can help you become more active and more willing to embrace healthier lifestyle habits. You are less likely to let fears of ageing (another type of negative perception) hold you back.
By shedding harmful beliefs about yourself, you could feel more hope and optimism. That may motivate you to exercise more or to initiate more social contact with old and maybe even new friends. You may even feel less stressed and more energetic.
When all of these benefits are added together, a longer and more fulfilling life may be your destiny.
Can you identify any beliefs in your day-to-day life that hold you back? Do certain ideas about yourself make it harder for you to initiate new activities? These negative ideas may be easier to fight than you realize.
Tags Healthy Aging
You’re very welcome Lori.
An excellent reminder to cultivate and tend to our mindset.
Thank you Jacqueline. I like your word cultivate – it makes me think about cultivating our mental garden.
I have a good friend that keeps saying, “well, we’re getting older you know”, and “at our age”. We are 75 years young. I keep telling her, don’t include me in what you are saying. Meaning, those are her thoughts. Because I plan on a long and healthy life, past 100.
Good for you. I think the same way.
I love your attitude, Monica. Trust your inner knowing. No one can define you. It’s peer pressure. I have a sister who says to her grown son, is this how it’s going to be when he passes away? meaning her son will take care of things for her. Her son has his own family to take care of and that’s a lot at this time. It’s a guilt trip used by older people. They kind of act helpless and get a lot of sympathy that way. It’s a mindset of being a victim. Victim mindsets are so common and blind a person to reality. victim mindsets get worse as we age and become a pervasive trait we see the world through. I continue to let go of controlling or stuck people and I’m doing so much better.
I have a younger friend who says the same thing. I NEVER refer to myself as “old”. That is a mindset I refuse to consider. I am 75 and just returned from a week in Morocco. THAT is what keeps me vital and engaged and active. I am healthy and active and don’t plan on that changing if I can help it.
I like your comment. I’m 67, and in my mind, I truly think/ feel that I’m about 45! I never say I am “old”, I always say “I’m just getting older”!
I also have a very young spirit and I always make a point to keep a “childlike” wonderment about the world…I think it is very important.
I also make a point to not only be around /be friends with people of my age group, but to also cultivate friendships with people who are younger…30’s, 40’s, 50’s….And I also have some friends anywhere from their 70’s to even over 100!! I think a wide age range of friends is VERY important to living an open minded, long, enjoyable life!
Thank you Monica. I’m with you.
Oh wow, this article is appreciated… I will be 81 in August and every morning that is my very first thought ! I have made major changes in the last year. Too major to detail. I am in a new 1000 sq ft apartment… not a 4000 sq foot house … big change. But I made it … all by myself ! Now what ? … trying to make friends in various ways … I am in excellent health “ considering my age” … I actually can hike, bike and swim … but I have to push myself … what happened to having fun? I am in a place I find odd and uncomfortable… still learning (?)
Nancy you sound fabulous!!!! I’ll be 70 this year and intend to be hiking, cycling, dancing, etc. when I’m in my 80s!
Thank you Nancy. Continuous learning is the way to go, even if we have to push ourselves a little.
Hi Nancy , am from Colombia and by reading your comment I felt very encouraged and motivated to make change s in my way of thinking. I got divorced in August lat yearn after 42 years marriage. Sometimes I feel a Little down but at the same time feel grateful and very proud abaoaaut myself. thanks very much for sharing your experience.