Scientists are discovering something very peculiar about human aging. How we feel about getting older really matters, and older people tend to be happier than younger people. Do you know why? There are Benefits In Aging! Here’s what Wikipedia says about aging:
In humans, aging represents the accumulation of changes over time, encompassing physical, psychological, and social changes.
For the full report on aging from Wikipedia, please read here. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a global campaign to focus attention on stereotypes about aging and designated October 1 as “International Day of Older Persons.” Are these myths and stereotypes about getting older based on reality? According to these mindful quotes, it would seem to be the opposite of reality:
Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.
We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.
George Bernard Shaw
My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?
Diane Von Furstenberg
What does research say about it?
Older people tend to be happier than younger people, and their happiness increasing with age, a study in The Journal of Clinical Psychology reported. Researchers contacted 1,546 people ages twenty-one to ninety-nine via random phone calls, and found older age, not surprisingly, is tied to decline in physical and cognitive function. But, it was also associated with higher levels of satisfaction, happiness, and well being, and lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. The older the person, the study found, the better his or her mental health and well being tended to be.
The researchers used well-validated scales to assess mental health, although the study relied on self-reports and was a snapshot in time that didn’t follow an individual throughout a lifetime. Other studies have found similar results, linking advancing age and higher levels of happiness. The reason for the effect remains unclear, but the senior author, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a Professor of Psychology, at the University of California San Diego, had some suggestions:
Brain studies show that the Amygdala in older people respond less to stressful or negative influence, than in a younger person,
We become wise, peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being more studios, yet more decisive. This is good news for young people, too,
You have something to look forward to.
It would seem that, there are positive benefits to aging. Experts on the psychology of aging say the new findings add to a growing body of research that suggests there are emotional benefits to getting older. But, how is it possible this paradox exist, with all the myths and negative connotations of aging? According to Laura Carstensen, Stanford Center on Longevity, evidence shows that people’s goals and reasoning change as they come to appreciate their mortality and recognize that their time on Earth is finite.
Getting older moves one away from exploration and expanding horizons to ones about savoring relationships and focusing on meaningful activities, meaning negative emotions become less frequent and more fleeting when they occur. One Duke-NUS Medical School study, researchers have found that increase in happiness is directly proportional with a reduction in mortality.
The study, which focused on Singaporeans aged 60 years and older, found that even small increments in happiness may be beneficial, suggesting individual activities as well as government policies and programs that maintain or improve psychological well-being may contribute to longer life. In other words, there is an indirect association between a happiness level in older individuals and mortality. The happier one is, the less concerned with mortality one is. A Harvard Medical School study supports the theory that happiness in older adults is associated with longevity and lower risks of disease.
Other research has shown 40 percent of people’s happiness comes from the choices they make, which is the 50 percent (genes)-10 percent (circumstances)-40 percent (personal choices) happiness formula. The Harvard Study on Adult Development has followed 724 (John F. Kennedy among them) men since they were teenagers in 1938. Of the original 724, approximately 60 of these men, now in their 90s, are still alive. 2 things stand out about those who lived to ripe-old ages.
One, as people get older, they tend to focus more on what’s important to them, and don’t sweat the small stuff to the degree they did when they were younger, agreeing with Carstensen’s position above of focusing on relationships and meaningful activities. And, the other, a strong connection between happiness and close relationships with a spouse, family, and friends. Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic negative mood boosters. According to an NIH study, emotions are powerful and are a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating mood, action, and behavior.
Being Optimistic About Aging
But, it also points to a very big obstacle, the myth, and the older people buying in to the myth! Negative beliefs about aging across society are pervasive in America. Even many older adults embrace the idea that growing old is an awful thing, without knowing, they’re doing potentially serious harm to their own health and well being, by not recognizing it doesn’t have to be that way, it’s only a myth. Can we change the minds of the ones that feel getting older is awful? Absolutely! A growing body of research offers hope.
Psychologists and Neuroscientists are identifying strategies that can be used to improve older adults’ mindset (by being mindful) about aging, by stressing the benefits of aging and the positive effect on health and well being. In a recent study published in the journal of Psychological Science, researchers at Yale University School of Health found that 100 older individuals, average age 81, who were subliminally exposed to positive messages about aging, showed long-term improvement in self-image, strength, and balance.
The study concluded, exposure to positive age stereotypes could weaken negative age stereotypes and their effects over time, and lead to healthier outcomes. According to lead researcher, Becca Levy, associate professor and director of the Social and Behavioral Science Division,
The challenge we had in this study was to enable the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television comedies.
The study’s successful outcome suggests the potential of directing subliminal processes toward the enhancement of physical function.
The National Institutes of Health review agreed with the Yale study and concluded current study’s findings demonstrate the potential of directing implicit processes toward physical-function enhancement over time. Other studies have shown that it’s possible to achieve similar results with certain anti-stereotyping tactics. Psychologists, Cognitive Therapists, and Educators use these tactics to treat symptoms like depression and race and gender bias, or harmful habits like smoking. With that in mind, here are four ways individuals can can better protect themselves from harmful effects of stereotypes about aging.
Myths and Facts
Experts say the first step in overcoming negative stereotypes about aging, is simply to understand how stereotypes work and recognize how really debilitating they can be. Although misleading, but is common practice, by offering a way to automatically categorize individuals into social groups by stereotyping, it allows everyone to “free-up mental energy, without thinking too much,” to live our lives. If we all tried to make sense of everything and everybody we encounter, we wouldn’t have enough attention left over to be functional human beings. However, according to studies like this Stanford Insights research, stereotyping has some serious negative influences. A series of five studies showed that people are more likely to lie, cheat, steal, or endorse doing so when they feel that they are being stereotyped and devalued simply because they belong to particular groups.
The 2014 Gallop-Healthway Well Being Index Telephone Survey of over 175,000, 18 and older adults, revealed some very interesting results in the following categories:
- Social — having supportive relationships, and love in your life—53% respondents 65 and older said yes to having satisfying relationships, only 38% of respondents 18 to 29 in age, said yes to having, and, only 35% of respondents 30 to 44 in age, said yes to having.
- Community, living location, and pride — 56% respondents 65 and older, said yes to feeling community, 30% of respondents 18 to 29 in age, said yes to the feeling, and 36% of respondents 30 to 44 in age, said yes to the feeling.
- Financial, more security, and less money stress — 62% of respondents 65 and older, said yes to having financial security, 34% of respondents 18 to 29 in age, said yes to having, and, 30% of respondents 30 to 44 in age, said yes to having.
- Physical, good health, and enough energy — 40% respondents 65 and older still said yes to having physical health, 36% respondents 18 to 29 in age, said yes to having, and 31% of respondents 30 to 44, said yes to having.
As you can readily see, the results from this survey are conclusive, older adults report a better and healthier quality of life, than younger adults. A 2008 British Medical Bulletin study seem to support the survey results that adults enjoy a healthier and better quality of life than younger adults. The majority of the elderly people evaluate their quality of life positively on the basis of social contacts, dependency, health, material circumstances and social comparisons and reported a greater satisfaction with life than younger adults. The study also found that adaptation and resilience might play a part in maintaining good quality of life.
Some stereotypes about older adults are positive, like the kind grandparents, or the elder statesman, or the family matriarch. But, in most Western societies, the perception of age and aging is predominantly negative,
says Dana Kutter Gruhn, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duke University.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly how holding negative stereotypes affect health and well being, but they say it’s clear that there is a clear connection in test after test, of negative stereotypes have shown to develop poor health issues. Over the past few decades, dozens of studies from Psychologists, Medical Doctors, and Neuroscientists, show that older peoples with negative views on aging, fair more poorly on health than those with less pessimistic attitudes. An NIH study, shows this is the case.
According to the study, a gloomy viewpoint, an inclination to focus on the negative part and exaggerate its significance, low self-esteem as well as a pessimistic view on what the future holds are interlinked with unhealthy neurophysiological processes in the right-hemisphere of the brain. Another Scientific America study concluded that optimism in seniors predicts fewer chronic illnesses, better overall health. A Harvard Medical School study of 2300 older adults evaluated the link between optimism and overall health over two years, and found people who had a positive outlook were much more likely to stay healthy and enjoy independent living than their less cheerful peers.
The Harvard review cited another study that looked at 6,959 students who took a comprehensive personality test when they entered the University of North Carolina in the mid-1960s. During the next 40 years, 476 of the people died from a variety of causes, with cancer being the most common. All in all, pessimism took a substantial toll; the most pessimistic individuals had a 42% higher rate of death than the most optimistic.
Education and learning about the Benefits In Aging helps to get beyond myths about aging, and equally important, understanding that our moods, relationships, and overall health and well being, actually improve with age, as can knowledge and certain types of intelligence. Because of stereotype of the elderly, many young adults assume they will face setbacks later in life. A NIH study addressed the negative connotation of stereotyping of older people on both the old and the young.
But, more than a majority of older adults have found that is not necessarily the case, as reflected in this 2009 Pew Research Poll study “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality“:
- Memory Loss—only 25% of ages 65 and older said they experienced memory loss, whereas, 27% of ages 18 to 64, said yes to memory loss.
- Not Feeling Needed—only 9% of ages 65 and older said they didn’t feel needed, whereas, 29% of ages 18 to 64, said they didn’t feel needed.
- Experiencing Serious Illness—only 21% of ages 65 and older said they experienced serious illness, whereas, 42% of ages 18 to 64, expressed having serious illness.
- Feeling Sad Or Depressed—only 20% of 65 and older said they felt sad or depressed, whereas, 29% of ages 18 to 64, said they felt sad or depressed.
These are some rather surprising statistics: About one-in-four adults ages 65 and older report experiencing memory loss. About one-in-five say they have a serious illness, are not sexually active, or often feel sad or depressed. About one-in-six report they are lonely or have trouble paying bills. One-in-seven cannot drive. One-in-ten say they feel they aren’t needed or are a burden to others.
Troubles associated with aging do accelerate as adults advance into their 80s and beyond, but even in the face of these challenges, the vast majority of the “old old” in our survey appear to have made peace with their circumstances. Only a miniscule share of adults ages 85 and older,1 percent, say their lives have turned out worse than they expected. According to the NIH Review “Depression and Older Adults”, depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is NOT a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems.
Stereotypes In Everyday Life
Being bombarded by the power of stereotypes, it’s important for everyone to be aware of how pervasive and inaccurate these beliefs are. Even on TV, older adults are often misrepresented or portrayed as being physically and mentally incompetent. The regular TV watchers who showed that watched more more TV, had more negative images of aging, than less frequent viewers. The 2001 study “Ageism Compared To Racism and Sexism”, by Duke University’s Erdman Palmore, PhD, published in The Gerontologists also revealed that the most frequent type of stereotyped ageism was also cruel and demeaning.
One example is, reported by 58 percent of respondents, older adults being told a joke that pokes fun at older people, and another example, thirty-one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. Referring back to Dr. Becca Levy, people’s positive beliefs about and attitudes toward the elderly appear to boost their mental health.
Levy has found that older adults exposed to positive stereotypes have significantly better memory and balance, whereas negative self-perceptions contributed to worse memory and feelings of worthlessness. Education, then, is a start. Getting beyond myths about aging and, equally important, understanding, as a growing body of research indicates,
that our moods, relationships and overall sense of well-being actually can improve with age, as can knowledge and certain types of intelligence,
said Dr. Levy.
One Neuroscience study supports Dr. Levy’s position. Contrary to the pervasive negative stereotypes of human aging, emotional functions may improve with advancing age. However, the brain mechanisms underlying changes in emotional function over age remain unknown. Here, we demonstrate that emotional stability improves linearly over seven decades (12–79 years) of the human lifespan.
It’s important to become more aware of your own thoughts about older individuals and aging. One thing to guard against, is a tendency to blame things automatically and reflexively on age. Some older adults, mistakenly blame physical and health problems on aging alone, rather than to the specific cause, which is, in most cases, treatable.
For example, Type 2 Diabetes, is not caused by age, but, by poor diet and lack of good nutrition, lack of exercise, being overweight, and other factors, which are addressable and treatable, per the NIH. Others chalk up occassional memory lapses to “senior moments”, rather than to disorganization or being to busy. In contrast, someone in their twenties, who constantly loses their keys, would never be attributed to age, would it?
Blaming everything on aging can reinforce negative stereotypes in our onselves, that equate aging with decline,
says Mary Lee Hummert, a Professor at the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas.
Using Positive Attitude To Overcome Negative Stereotypes
Being aware of negative stereotypes isn’t enough. Research shows that negative stereotypes about aging have a much stronger influence on some older adults than positive ones. So, it’s vitally important to always emphasize the good side of aging with stereotypes, according to this NIH study.
In recent years, in an effort to find solutions concerning stereotyping, researchers have begun identifying techniques, individuals can use to interrupt negative thoughts about aging, by substituting more positive thoughts. Scientists have used training sessions about bias and stereotyping, and its consequences.
They also provided techniques in the training designed to substitute positive for negative stereotypes. In a study published in 2012, researchers at the University of Wisconsin used a combination of techniques to see whether they could reduce the biases of 91 undergraduates. After taking the Implicit Association Test, the 91 participants, 90% of whom demonstrated more negative associations with black than with white people, were divided into two groups.
For example, the scientists asked the participants of the training session group to look for examples of people in stereotypes groups who didn’t fit the stereotype, and to also think about what it would be like to be classified as a member of a stereotype group, and stereotyped incorrectly. Those assigned to the training program showed a larger increase in concern about discrimination, and, also exhibited less bias than those without training. Lead author of the study, Dr. Patricia Levine, said this,
We explained that if they were motivated to eliminate bias, they could learn and then practice the various bias reduction techniques.
Researchers have found in “unconscious bias”, it’s vitally important to harness the power of conscious thought by influencing it, to overcome bias, prejudices, and stereotyping of all types. Oh, so you don’t have any prejudices? Want to confirm that? Take the Implicit Association Test online.
Accept the Aging Process
It’s important to understand that aging is the natural process of decline in any living organism, from the smallest cell, to the largest animals on this earth, and it’s also important to understand to not go overboard an expect an entirely positive experience of aging, because it’s not all positive.
The key is to hold both positive and negative influences in balance, and really understand and own the aging process. Citing the Pew poll research, on average, individuals forty years and older, report feeling 20% younger than their actual age, is a good healthy tendency that can serve a useful psychological purpose.
By distancing yourself from your age, you also distance yourself from negative age stereotypes,
says David Weiss, Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Science at Comumbis University. The solution may be considered trite, but experts say it’s crucial, “to embrace aging, the good and bad,” says Geriatrician Bill Thomas, co-founder of changingaging.org. However, it’s just as important to not try to ignore aging but to except it in a positive way as it’s inevitable, because you will live longer and even recover from a disability quicker, per this study.
Dr. Thomas says
it’s important to look at not just the negative changes that take place as we age, but also the positives, such as developing our interpersonal skills, relationships, expertise, and knowledge.
According to NIH research studying the “broaden and build theory”, found that the theory suggests that positive emotions, although fleeting, also have more long-lasting consequences.
From the perspective of the broaden-and-build theory, positive emotions are vehicles for individual growth and social connection: By building people’s personal and social resources, positive emotions transform people for the better, giving them better lives in the future. As an example, you may no longer be the runner or tennis player you once were, but that doesn’t mean you can’t remain positive and adapt your game using finesse, or walk fast instead of running, or find other outlets with similar positive results. So, maintaining positive emotions or “positive thinking” will greatly improve your outlook on the physical and mental negative aspects of aging by adapting and adjusting to the changes required. Checkout this positive thinking video (1) for some great tips.
One technique showing promising results, is identifying with one’s generation, such as my generation, “baby boomers”, being proud of the differences we made in our culture, is an effective way to embrace a more positive conception of older age. Professor Wiess found in one study reviewed by ResearchGate, that older individuals who thought more about their generation optimistically, reported better health and well being.
Giving the Aged Responsibility
We are a species wired to feel needed, respected, and purposeful, even more so in aging adults. The absence of those qualities is a huge blow to ones self-esteem and actually harmful to our health, as public health and social scientists have demonstrated.
An earlier American Psychological Association (APA) study in the late 70’s, nursing home resident were given the opportunity to arrange their room furnishings however they wanted, decide for themselves which nights to attend a movie, and choose house plants to keep and nurture. A second group of residents, all those things were done for them.
After three weeks, almost all residents in the first group experienced significant improvement in physical and mental well-being, whereas most participants in the second group declined or stayed the same. A follow up APA study conducted 18 months later found, remarkably, that members of the disempowered group, or typically the way older people are treated, were twice, 30 percent mortality rate, as likely to die, compared to their empowered peers or independent group, with only a 15 percent mortality rate. Allowing older people to have the responsibility of making decisions and choices concerning their life is clearly one of the Benefits In Aging.
Another solution is moderate exercise. While the health benefits of physical activity are widely known, a 2012 United Kingdom reviewed by the NIH, study shows that moderate exercise can also leave us feeling better about the aging process.
The evidence shows that regular physical activity is safe for healthy and for frail older people and the risks of developing major cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, obesity, falls, cognitive impairments, osteoporosis and muscular weakness are decreased by regularly completing activities ranging from low intensity walking through to more vigorous sports and resistance exercises. Actually, studies, like this ScienceDirect study, have now shown, daily physical activity can add a minimum of five years to your life.
A study, done at the Berlin Medical Center on 247 women, ages 70 to 93, were divided randomly into three groups. One group attended a computer class, another group took an exercise program, and the third group was told to do what they normally do.
After six months, the exercise group reported the highest level of satisfaction with aging,
said Verna Klusmann, Psychologist at the University of Konstanz and Breman.
These women were more physically fit, more alert, and had better executive functioning. The positive experience of physical activity affected their health and well being, not only beneficially, but also, improved their attitudes about aging,
Dr. Klusmann said.
As a rule of thumb, moderate exercise of thirty minutes a day five days a weeks is recommended, and it doesn’t have to be thirty minutes at a time. It can be broken down into two fifteen minute sessions, one in the morning, and one sometime later in the day.
The amount of exercise that Americans get is closely linked to their level of optimism about their lives. Gallup’s Top Well-Being Findings of 2017 showed the optimism-exercise relationship is much stronger among older adults than it is among younger adults. U.S. adults aged 65 and older who report exercising the minimum recommended amount regularly, are 32% more likely than those who say they did not exercise at all to have high optimism.
This compares with a 6% bump for those younger than 30 who exercise regularly. Being responsible for a pet is one more way to age gracefully, according to an NIH study. Having and being responsible for a pet or pets, not only has been linked to lowering blood pressure and stress, but also increasing feelings of social support, mood, and reducing loneliness.
And last, but by far not least, is routinely getting the proper nutrition and supplementing your diet with an all natural whole food supplement, for added assurance in maintaining health and well being.
Aging Through Proper Nutrition
Eating fresh, as is humanly possible, organic well-balanced nutrient-rich foods is a requirement for all ages, but, as one ages, it becomes increasingly more important. This can’t be over emphasized!
All efforts should be made to purchase fresh, organic, non-GMO (non-genetically modified) lean grass-fed finished and free-range finished meats, grass-fed dairy and eggs (A); wild-caught fish and seafood (A); fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and edible seeds (A); whole grains and complex carbohydrates, natural fermented foods; herbs and spices; monounsaturated cooking oils, and antioxidant drinks, infused water, and fruit smoothies (A).
Americans also tend to eat more unhealthy processed or refined foods, or precooked foods, high-sugar, processed meats, or high-sodium foods, fried foods, or microwavable foods, that are full of hormones, preservatives, additives, flavoring, food coloring, and no telling what else, all of which are unhealthy, nutrient-deficient, and hard to digest, and should be avoided by aging adults.
Aging Through Proper Natural Supplementation
Supplement your diet daily with the natural, organic, non GMO, whole nutritious food ‘Adaptogen’ Peruvian Maca, to be certain you are getting the proper nutrition. To discover the wide-ranging benefits of this incredible natural Adaptogen Peruvian Maca plant, and why you should supplement with it, please read the following reviews:
Now that you know the many Benefits In Aging, there are some other recommended simple daily activities that will assist you in maintaining better health and well being as you age, such as having fun and doing something you enjoy every day, gardening, dancing, swimming, and being creative. Do you have questions? Please contact me and I will provide the answers. Your comments are welcomed below.
(A) Follow the links for more in depth information, more documented studies, and to purchase all these incredible nutrient-dense foods for aging health and well being.
(1) Howcast Video