Which would you bet on for a longer healthier life: A happy, active 70-year old or a cynical, sedentary 60? It may seem obvious, but we need to ask ourselves: Are we really mindful about practicing a healthier lifestyle when it comes to our attitudes? Our health and illness patterns are much more rooted in our minds and in our hearts than people realize (www.nytimes.com/10/26/2014).
Do you define yourself by your age? If so, what are the definitions? If your environment has negative stereotypes (frail, dependent, a burden) about aging then this could have a negative impact on your health. To turn that around, it is not about making ourselves younger and worshiping the fantasies of youth, it is about redefining age as a process of continual growth with new opportunities and contributions to society (AARP Magazine Feb/March 2016). Many companies are discovering the benefits of hiring older adults for their experience, work ethic, wisdom, resources, and talents.
Our moods, feelings and thoughts all influence our physiology and that includes how we experience ourselves in the world. “It comes down to daily behavior and the choices we make,” says Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who studies stress and aging. “We have a growing set of studies of people from around the world showing that aging is not just an aspect of genetics but of how we live” (Time Magazine, Feb. 15, 2016). Deciding to live better –it increasingly seems– is the same as deciding to live younger. Thus, the cliché – We are only as old as we feel – has merit.
One of our greatest accomplishments is to live a longer, healthier and productive life. Studies are focusing on how this can be done. We know about the more widespread studies involving the physical aspects of a healthier lifestyle such as diet, exercise, and adequate sleep, but positive attitude and our mindset have an impact on our health as well. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, has been studying aging, mindfulness, decision-making and health since the late 1970s. These studies have come to the forefront with baby boomers and their interest in aging as it relates to the way we feel physically, emotionally and culturally.
Research is mounting that our outlook, our personality and how upbeat we are have a profound impact, not just on how we feel, but also on how our cells age. Brain function, including the discovery of telomere functioning, is revealing more to us about memory. Various studies are showing that taking steps to reduce stress and chronic inflammation can contribute to longer telomeres, which mean healthier body cells:
“Challenges and setbacks and even tragedies are nonnegotiable parts of life, but what is negotiable is how you face them” (www.nytimes.com/10/26/2014). Which approaches can help us to reduce stress and improve our attitude in everyday life as we age?
To go back to the original example, ask yourself: Are you happy and active or cynical and sedentary? Keep in mind: Being a more active person with a more positive attitude will lead to a healthier you!
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