Guest post written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50
You’re trying to eat well and be active every day, but are you working on your mindset about aging?
How we think about aging has a powerful impact on our lives. Older adults with a positive attitude and mindset about aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those who harbor negative perceptions about aging (click here for a link to the study.)
We don’t need to look further than Hollywood legend, Clint Eastwood, who at age 90 is energetic and productive. When asked how he keeps going strong he said, “I get up every day and I don’t let the old man in.” (Country singer Toby Keith turned it into song.)
Developing our mindset about aging starts when we are young. We develop perceptions about aging that we carry with us throughout life. Once we reach whatever age we consider to be “old,” we accept those stereotypical mindsets without questioning their accuracy. It doesn’t help that media images of older adults…befuddled with technology, pictured as alone and lonely, and disconnected and dependent can reinforce our view of aging. A recent report from AARP confirms visual portrayals and stock photography used in media build and reinforce ageist stereotypes.
So how do we develop a positive mindset if all around us is telling us old is synonymous with memory loss, disability, and rocking chairs? Professor Catherine Sanderson of Amherst College, speaking at One Day University offers this advice:
- Work to change our stereotypes about what happens with age. If we think that becoming more forgetful is inevitable as we age, that self-fulfilling prophecy is likely to come true. How many times have you said you were having a “senior moment?” Ditch that language and recognize that everyone forgets something now and then.
- Move and all movement counts. Gardening, housework, and playing with your grandchildren can be just as valuable as a fitness class.
- Find time for a few minutes of mindful solitude. Use an app for a guided 10-minute meditation or sit sill and quiet for 5 minutes each day.
- Keep 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. The Japanese call enjoying nature “forest bathing.”
- Get a pet. Having a pet prompts us to move more, having the responsibility to care for an animal’s welfare adds a purposeful dimension to life. (see our 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. An adverse response to stress has many negative physical and mental consequences.
- Embrace adversity. We can’t avoid it, so we might as well welcome adversity to improve ourselves.
A positive mind-set might not mean everything when it comes to successful aging, but it surely means a lot. And successful aging is not simply a matter of feeling invincible because that mind-set can lead some—young and old—to avoid a visit to the doctor when one is absolutely necessary. Perhaps the best news in all of this is that a positive mind-set about aging costs us nothing more than changing whatever negative perceptions we might have been harboring. When scientists, a movie star, and a country music singer all agree that it helps not to let the old man in, that advice seems good enough for all of us. To see Toby Keith’s video of Don’t Let the Old Man In, featuring none other than Clint Eastwood, click here.