Positive outlook and attitude may decrease negative effects of aging
You’ve probably heard that positive thinking will lead to positive outcomes.
Now, when it comes to aging, research proves it.
Maureen Smith has absolutely no interest in being put out to pasture.
“I stay pretty busy most of the time," she said. "I exercise on a regular basis. Just started doing cardio kickboxing.”
She doesn’t give a second thought to the fact that she’s nearly 70.
"Nope, not at all. To me age, it’s a number," she said. "It’s what you allow it to be.”
Professor Shevaun Neupert and her team wanted to test if the everyday things that remind older adults of their age actually affect their health and well-being.
For nine straight days, researchers asked 116 volunteers the same questions about aging, such as, whether their thinking was slower.
“We found that, in general, it is good to feel like you have a positive outlook on your aging," said Professor Neupert. "That people who feel that they’re just as happy now as they were when they were younger, tended to report fewer negative experiences with their aging on a daily basis.”
However, that positive attitude also has a delicate downside.
“Those same people who felt really good about their aging, in general, were the ones who were the most vulnerable to threats to that feeling of positivity," she said. "So, on days when they did experience something that was somewhat negative related to their aging, they had a more steep increase in their bad mood.”
Professor Neupert also says there are many good things that come with getting older, including an increased vocabulary, better emotion regulation, and stress management.
Maureen’s positive outlook comes naturally while many other older Americans have to work at it. Nonetheless, research now shows either way, the best way to age is to build resilience to face stressful situations.
BACKGROUND: America has a growing elderly population, and they are also working longer, living longer, and becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. In 1960, the lifespan of older adults was 68; however, due to the decrease in mortality at a younger age, by 2003, it increased by eleven years. Furthermore, the numbers of Americans ages 65 and older is expected to be over 98 million by 2060. However, the growing older population does come with some challenges. There has been a significant rise in obesity rates for seniors; from 2009-2012 it was about 40 percent. Furthermore, 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two. Unfortunately, they suffer from chronic illness such as diabetes, stroke cancer, and heart disease which causes almost two-thirds of all deaths each year. Moreover, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease could increase from five million in 2013 to 14 million in 2050. One in four adults has some mental disorder like anxiety, depression, or dementia; and this is expected to increase by 15 million by 2020.
THE STUDY: Shevaun Neupert and his colleagues researched older adults and discovered that an individual awareness of aging changes regularly, and that day-to-day experience, and an individual perspective toward aging can affect an individual’s awareness of age-related change (AARC). The study was performed on 116 participants between the ages of 60 and 90 and found that people, whose baseline attitudes towards aging were positive, usually reported a more positive or better mood and were less likely to report a negative experience. However, the study also found that negative experiences had a bigger impact for people who normally had a positive attitude towards aging and had a significant effect on their day.
THE POWER OF POSITIVITY: Diet and exercise are important when it comes to aging gracefully. Nevertheless, there is something else that people can do to improve their quality of life: have a positive attitude. People who still see their “golden years” ahead and reject stereotypes about aging may extend their lifespan by 7.5 years according to one study. Indeed, a good attitude plays an even bigger role than having low blood pressure and low cholesterol which has been found to increase life span by four years. However, it is hard to determine if good health causes a positive attitude or if a positive attitude causes good health. But it could be that both are mutually inclusive, and it is a symbiotic relationship that creates a “virtuous circle.” For instance, a positive attitude can help an individual exercise more and eat healthy, which in turn can contribute to making them feel better both physically, and mentally. Multiples studies have shown that a positive outlook can decrease an individual’s chance of getting sick, and may even help with brain activity such as thinking and memory retention.