The woods are full of them. Old age stereotypes of every form and size dot the landscape of the mind. And, they have a negative affect on the way we age. I’m in my 70’s and have been subjected to them just like everybody else who is over 60. Fortunately, I’ve been able to counter most of them. You can too!
What are we talking about? Here are some common examples. I often hear people say, “Oops, I’m having a senior moment” which is another way of saying because I am aging I automatically forget things. But the person who is saying this is often under 50. However, the bait is out there and has been swallowed: when you get old you lose your memory, period. This, of course, is grossly untrue.
I also hear a different version of being a senior on the golf course. When someone hits a short drive that hits a concrete sidewalk, and they get a big rebound for an extra 20 or 30 yards, they are said to have gotten a “senior bounce.” Then look at all of the birthday and greeting cards with jokes about getting old, and not being able to do much anymore. And, we certainly can’t forget how the younger set uses elderspeak on us. You know, that loud sweetie pie voice with the condescending tone.
What is the danger of all of this if you are a member of the older set and believe it? Many accept the aging stereotypes without realizing it, and consequently reduce their activities, become couch potatoes, narrow their outlook on life, expect less of themselves, and affect their health negatively. Here is what you can do to resist the reinforcement that aging is stark decline and loss of your wits.
1. The research is clear. What you think affects the aging process. Every thought you have has a physical effect at the cellular level. When you think negatively, focus on fear, or get angry look what it does to you physically. On the other hand, a positive view of aging can affect the quality of your life, including memory, and the way you age.
2. Therefore, stop thinking old. Ignore the stereotypes and focus on what you can give to your community and family. Love is the most important coping mechanism for dealing with life. Tell the people you love that you love them. Be a part of a nurturing community and you will find it incredibly difficult to grow old. Believe that you are not old until you stop having fun.
3. Any form of energy expenditure can be useful to maintaining health. And the research backs this up. A study of 302 people between the ages of 70-82 in the Journal of the American medical Association showed that any level of physical activity can prolong life. Keep moving on a regular basis is the key. Check with your Doctor first to see if he/she has any restrictions for you. Then crank the activity into your daily routines.
4. Use light weights every other day. As we get older we tend to lose muscle mass. You can counter this natural loss with light weight training. Start with 2-5 pound weights and 8 repetitions for the arms and 12 for the legs. Gradually increase to 20-25 for the arms and 40 for the legs.
5. Never stop learning. “Anyone who stops learning is old,” said Henry Ford, “whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Education about diet, exercise, interpersonal relationships, as well as successful aging, can make a difference in your health status and the way your mind stays sharp. Your choices are critically important in the quality of life you maintain. You can choose peace of mind and nurture tranquility each day or allow yourself to drift into conflict over everything you don’t agree with.
6. Remember that interpersonal relationships with extended family and other friends are crucial factors in happiness and longevity. Surround yourself with people you love, who are cheerful, and you will reduce the stress hormones swirling around inside. Keep in touch, and don’t be shy about developing new friends regardless of your age. Social connections are as important as your diet.
7. Be your own best friend and don’t pull yourself down because you make a mistake. As Buckminster Fuller said, “The only reason I know so much is because of all the failures I’ve had.” Minimize the negative emotions (anger, worry, guilt, and depression) that you allow to live in your head, and you will strengthen your immune system and add to your longevity. There are many studies that support this approach and will show you how to pull it off.
So get in touch with and strengthen your beliefs in a power greater than yourself that will give you the wisdom to choose and the direction to turn your thoughts for the greater good. Learn what you can and cannot control and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
In summary, how you age is essentially up to you. George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University and co-author of Successful Aging, put it this way “An active and happy old age, dear Brutus, may not lie so much in our stars and genes as in ourselves.” He should know, having conducted one of the largest studies on why some people age with fewer problems than others. So be proactive as you grow older, and let the stereotypes remain unfounded, as they have always been.