We are continuing our exploration of the Vitality Domains that support our healthy aging. The second of four life areas that influence our health span is mindset. This encompasses our beliefs about aging, optimism, and mindfulness or presence.
As you read the articles, remember to notice your reaction to the different life areas. Allow yourself to hear your inner voice; you may recognize an area or two where nurturing it may well make a difference in your health span! It is time to take the actions that will support healthy aging so we can relish every minute of life.
Read the first article in the Vitality mini-series: LOVING LIFE WITH WELL-BEING AND ENERGY.
Mindset is significant because your assumptions about life and how you approach life become your reality. This reality has a physiological impact as you age. Do you know anyone who acts “old” at 60 because they believe they are? Do you know anyone who has fallen into the pit of “life is bad because I am old?” It is time to talk back. Let’s break it down into some key aspects of mindset.
We are inundated with society’s bias about aging even as young children. Think about the role of older women in fairy tales. Research has shown that toddlers already have developed some ageist views. We are surrounded by anti-aging ads for cosmetics as well as relentless ads about all the pharmaceuticals needed by older adults.
Only recently have older women been featured in movies (thank you, Judy Dench). These constant messages about aging have become a part of our thinking! How could they not?
Perhaps, a friend suggests you shouldn’t hike alone, or shovel bark dust, or take up an activity due to your numeric age – do you buy into it? There are significant differences between individuals when comparing their chronological and physical ages. One 70-year-old may present physically as 50, while another as 75 (using medical baselines). You are the one who knows what is reasonable for you. Be safe and live fully.
Finally, Becca Levy, Ph.D. found that “(study) participants with positive age beliefs lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative age beliefs.” That is an astounding impact.
Once you have the habit of noticing your own thoughts, the trick is to intervene between the negative thought and your words and actions. When you find yourself having a negative thought about aging, such as “I am too old,” or “(this activity) is meant for younger people,” stop yourself. Do the same when you find yourself judging someone’s looks, behaviors, or condition based on age.
After you yell “Stop!” in your mind, replace the thought or words with a positive aging alternative. Think about the birthday card example above. Practice when you see the role of older people on television. Find ways to promote positive aging in conversations with friends. Anti-aging beliefs are deep seated and managing them is an on-going practice.
What does optimism look like in action? It means you usually expect the best possible outcome, or at least focus on the hopeful aspects of a situation. This kind of positivity has many direct health benefits and is highly associated with happiness. But what does it have to do with aging?
Two recent studies found that optimism is associated with a longer lifespan; this holds across both racial and ethnic groups. One study asserts that optimism may benefit well-being because it helps to reduce stress.
The good news is that optimism is related to doing activities that bring a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. As we age, we become better at that than at any other time in our lives. So, get out there and let yourself do what you love!
Another fun practice that you can share with someone is to express at least 10 good things that are happening. Take turns; dive in and be silly to make it fun.
The benefit of a calm mind is largely, but not entirely, related to stress reduction. A calm mind does not react to the melodrama that can be a part of daily life. A calm mind has perspective and holds stressors as objective events, rather than a personal battle. The most well-known method of calming the mind is mediation.
We know meditation is not for everyone. Yet, there are various approaches, and one might serve you. You might explore one of these to see if it calls to you.
In this meditation approach, focus is solely on the present moment and nothing more. The benefits are many, from stress reduction to helping with depression and ADHD. Meditation helps your brain function as that of a younger person. It also lengthens telomeres and increases telomerase. That is a good thing because shortened telomeres are associated with the aging process.
This is a mantra-based approach where you sit for 20 minutes twice a day effortlessly repeating a mantra. Results include lower blood pressure, and as you might expect, a lowered stress response.
This includes Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. Really, it can simply be walking and staying focused in the moment. That sounds like a great place to start!
Giving yourself the gift of spending time doing something that is relaxing and pleasant will help calm you. It may be gardening, or cooking, or being in nature.
Thinking about the various supports to a positive mindset, what small step might you take?
How do you keep your mindset, especially about aging, positive? Have you found ways to put the societal biases in their place and live your life? What kinds of things help you be optimistic? What practices do you use to increase your sense of calm and manage stress?