Guest blog post by Dr. Bob Murray
In a previous post Dr. Murray wrote about the powerful benefits of maintaining a young mindset on our healthspan—the number of years we enjoy good mental and physical health. In today’s post, he expands on maintaining a young mindset. (For the post, click here.)
A famous study published in 2002 demonstrated that negative perceptions of aging can significantly influence longevity. Older adults with a positive mindset—a positive attitude—about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who harbored negative perceptions of aging. Putting a more personal spin on the topic, Hollywood director and actor Clint Eastwood—still incredibly energetic and productive in his 80s—said that when he gets up every morning, he tries not to “let the old man in.” In other words, Clint strives to maintain a young mindset in everything he does.
The incredible power of maintaining a young mindset is worth revisiting because we all have control over how we think about ourselves and our place in the world and that control allows us to reshape negative perceptions about aging that may have inadvertently crept in over time.
That very message was the central theme of a One Day University lecture by Professor Catherine Sanderson of Amherst College. To help make her point about the benefits of having a young, positive mindset, Dr. Sanderson spoke of how mindset has been shown to alter perceptions of pain, susceptibility to illness, surgical outcomes, hormonal responses to eating, and the benefits of physical activity. And she mentioned the 2002 study as an example of how mindset can affect aging. In a nutshell, mindset is powerful stuff.
Dr. Sanderson stressed that in addition to having a positive mindset about aging, other factors such as maintaining a strong sense of personal control and good overall health habits (including a nutritious diet and regular physical activity) also contribute to longevity, as does how we react to the inevitable stresses of life. Those who typically view stress as negative and debilitating live shorter lives than those who embrace stress as unavoidable yet positive challenges that enhance life. Successfully coping with stress improves our capacity to handle life’s ups and downs and directly contributes to our overall happiness. We all know people whose glass-is-half-empty approach to life is a burden to them and to those around them.
Do you wallow in feelings of rejection when things don’t work out the way you had hoped, or do you accept rejection as an impetus for redirection? The first reaction—an adverse response to stress—has many negative physiological and health-related consequences. Although it is not easy to alter how we deal with stress, it can be accomplished.
Dr. Sanderson suggests ten ways we can change our outlook on life, including how we handle stress:
- Work to change our stereotypes about what happens with age. For example, if we think that becoming more forgetful is inevitable as we age, that self-fulfilling prophecy is likely to come true.
- Physical activity—every movement counts. Housework can be just as valuable as a fitness class.
- Meditation each day, even if it that amounts to only a couple minutes of mindful solitude, can positively affect mental health and physical function.
- Learning—both mental and physical—helps restore, maintain, and expand neural circuits in the brain and throughout the body.
- Faith of any sort. The stronger the faith in a higher power, the more positive the impact on longevity.
- Spend time in nature. Good things happen to physical and mental health when we spend time outside, even when we just sit and enjoy our surroundings. (We wrote about the concept developed by the Japanese called forest bathing as enjoying nature. For the post click here.)
- Get a dog (or cat). Not only do pets prompt us to move more, having the responsibility to care for an animal’s welfare adds a purposeful dimension to life. (see out blog on the benefits of owning a pet by clicking here.)
- Maintain good relationships. Healthy relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, leads to happiness and happiness leads to longer, healthier lives.
- Manage stress. Often easier said than done, but how we react to unexpected events is usually under our total control.
- Embrace adversity. We can’t avoid it, so we might as well welcome adversity as a way to improve ourselves.
There is a lot of compelling science to support Clint Eastwood’s advice to not let the old man (or woman) in. The fact that our attitude—our mindset—has direct bearing on how we age gives all of us an amazing amount of control over our destiny.
For more tips on being well as we age, see Food & Fitness After 50 available on Amazon or from other book sellers.
Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.