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Be positive about aging and be healthier in old age

Written by Diane Archer

Some say you are what you do. Others say you are what you think. In fact, Becca Levy, PhD, Yale University, who has studied people’s views about growing older, finds that people who think more negatively about aging are significantly more likely to experience mental and physical decline as they age than people who are more positive about aging. In short, be positive about aging and be healthier in old age.

In their article, Memory Shaped by Age Stereotypes over Time, Levy’s team reports finding that people who are more negative about old age experienced a 30 percent larger loss of memory over 38 years than people who are less negative about old age.

A separate study found that older people who blame old age rather than a particular disability for their difficulties performing activities like walking or getting dressed are also more likely to have serious chronic conditions, such as heart disease, hearing loss and arthritis, than people who see the value of aging. To underscore the importance of seeing being old in a positive light, one study found that people who see old age as sickness–their chronic conditions stemming from being old–are more than doubly likely to die earlier than people who do not.

Interestingly, societal views about aging have also been found to play a role in the mental health of older adults. One study found that older adults in China have far better memories than older adults in the U.S.  Researchers Becca Levy and Ellen Langer see a link between these findings and the fact that the Chinese have a more positive view of aging than Americans.

What can you do to increase your likelihood of enjoying old age? Look to older adults who are doing great things for inspiration. Watch the video below of this 86-year old gymnast performing on the parallel bars. Talk about a source of inspiration!

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