Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 5th 2015 Contents A24
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, January 5, 2015
From magazine covers to billboards, youth is glam-
orised as the image of beauty and the prime of life.
We are inundated with the message that aging is some-
thing we should dread and perhaps even fight.
You may unquestioningly accept this as a fact of life.
You may even laugh about being "over the hill." The
only problem is that such thinking comes at a price:
Internalising these ageist stereotypes is harmful to your
The way you perceive aging can actually influence
how you age. Aging, like many aspects of life, is a self-
fulfilling prophecy. Positive and negative attitudes can
affect your health behav-
iorally, psychologically and
even biologically. Being
"pro-aging," or satisfied
with your own aging, can
make you adopt healthier
behaviors, feel in control of
how you age and even
heighten your immune sys-
tem. Being "anti-aging," or
perceiving aging negatively,
can do the opposite.
Here are five powerful benefits of "pro-aging" think-
It can help you live longer
In 2001, researchers from Yale and Harvard University
looked at 660 participants between the ages of 50 and
80 who participated in a community-based survey, the
Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement. They
measured how self-perception of aging impacted survival
over the course of 22.6 years. They found that participants
who held a more positive attitude about their own
aging---such as continuing to feel useful and happy---
lived, on average, 7.5 years longer.
In fact, they found that perception of aging influenced
longevity even more than blood pressure, cholesterol,
body mass index, or a person's tendency to exercise.
It can reduce disability
Loss of independence is among the greatest fears
most people have about getting older. Staying physically
and cognitively active can defend against disability. Yet
less emphasised is the role of your belief about your
own aging. In a study published in the Journal of Geron-
tology: Psychological Sciences, participants in the Ohio
Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement who held
a positive self-perception of aging had a greater ability
to carry out daily activities over an 18-year period,
regardless of their functional health at the start of the
It can help you practice prevention
Preventive habits have been proven to continually
improve health and quality of life at every age, yet older
adults are less likely to engage in preventive behaviors.
Misconceptions about aging, such as believing that heart
disease is inevitable, can weaken the motivation to follow
a preventive lifestyle. Similarly, a negative perception of
aging may adversely influence your habits. In a 2004
study, the participants in the Ohio Longitudinal Study
of Aging and Retirement who had more positive per-
ceptions of aging were significantly more likely to have
physical exams, eat a balanced diet, exercise and take
prescriptions as directed over a 20-year period.
It can boost your memory.
Be careful what you think. According to The Baltimore
Longitudinal Study of Aging, the longest-running study
of memory and aging, expecting memory decline can
actually contribute to memory loss over time. Over a
38-year period, participants 60 years of age and older
who held more negative stereotypes of cognitive aging
had a 30.2 per cent greater decline in memory perform-
ance than those who held less negative stereotypes about
memory and aging.
It can help your heart.
Lastly, believing in negative age stereotypes can increase
your risk of heart disease. When negative stereotypes
are formed early in life, they can have a profound impact
on health decades later. In a study from par-
ticipants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study
of Aging, young adults who held negative age
stereotypes were significantly more likely to
experience a cardiovascular event over the next
38 years. However, by making a significant
positive change in their stereotype of aging,
of two standard deviations on an administered
age-stereotype scale, these young adults could
reduce their risk of experiencing a cardiovas-
cular event by 80 per cent.
The psychological path to aging gracefully
You can begin shaping your self-prophecy
of how you will age by becoming aware of
your current perception and internalised expec-
tations about aging. How do you picture aging?
Do you anticipate wisdom or senility? Do you
envision vivacity or debility?
Looking and feeling young as you age begins
with believing you can look and feel young as
That isn't always easy. Western cultural and
religious roots of ageism are deeply entrenched
in the Protestant work ethic and the American
Dream, both of which value youth by defining
personal worth in terms of active engagement
Adopting more of an Eastern mindset can
help redirect your prophecy. Buddhist, Con-
fucian and Taoist philosophical traditions value
old age as a socially valuable part of life, even
a time of "spring" or "rebirth."
Start determining your aging prophecy today
by celebrating and embracing each year, both
for the triumphs and the hardships that it may
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Five powerful benefits of 'pro-aging' thinking
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