Health: feelings related to aging could affect health
Maybe not the number, but how we age maybe. A growing body of research suggests that a person’s state of mind – how they feel about aging – can predict how long and how they will live over the years.
Several studies over the past 20 years suggest that people with more positive attitudes toward aging live longer and healthier lives than those with negative perceptions of the aging process. Recently, a large national study of nearly 14,000 adults over the age of 50 took an even deeper look at the ways positive thinking about aging can impact physical health, health behaviors and well-being. -psychological being of a person.
Published in JAMA Network Open, the study found that those most satisfied with aging were 43% less likely to die from any cause over the four years of follow-up compared to those who were the least satisfied. The most satisfied people also had a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease, as well as better cognitive functioning. People with a more positive attitude towards aging were also more likely to engage in frequent physical activity and less likely to have trouble sleeping than their less satisfied peers. They were also less lonely, less likely to be depressed, more optimistic, and had a stronger sense of purpose.
“There is a link between mindsets and health behaviors,” said Eric Kim, the study’s lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “One leads to the other.”
For example, while older adults tend to use preventive health services less frequently than younger or middle-aged adults, a study Kim co-authored in the journal Preventive Medicine shows that older people 50-year-olds are satisfied with their aging, more likely to undergo a cholesterol test or screening for breast, cervical or prostate cancer.
But it goes both ways. Although having a positive attitude can lead to behaviors that promote good health, “if people believe that poor health is inevitable with age, this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy that prevents them from adopting behaviors that will help them age,” said Kim, who is also a research fellow with the Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
“The good news is that these opinions we have about aging are changing. We can change our mindset,” said Hannah Giasson, who co-authored the preventive medicine study with Kim and others. . She is an assistant professor at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University in Phoenix and specializes in the relationship between people’s views of aging and their health and well-being.
According to Kim and Giasson, here are things that can help people develop a more positive approach to aging.
Some people don’t know what to do with themselves after retirement, Kim said. He suggests finding projects that match a person’s values.
“People’s goals can be very different,” he said. If family is a big priority, find things to do that contribute to the family, like helping take care of the grandkids. If conservation is a strong value, find projects that contribute to the health of the environment.
“Volunteer work is a great way to do that,” he said.
Acknowledge negative messages about aging — and dismiss them.
Research shows that negative stereotypes about aging are internalized throughout a person’s life and can harm physical and cognitive health as a person ages.
“Develop an awareness of these messages,” suggests Giasson. “Understanding how they influence us.”
For example, a person may believe that poor physical health is inevitable for older people and therefore trying to stay active is pointless. But according to the National Institute on Aging, exercise can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and can improve sleep and reduce the risk of falls.
“Recognizing that practicing healthy behaviors can promote health at any age,” Giasson said.
As people age, they may lose loved ones like spouses, family members or friends. If one spouse was responsible for maintaining social networks and that person dies, the remaining spouse may feel lonely and more socially isolated.
Social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for poor physical and mental health, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes and contributing to low life satisfaction, depression, low self-esteem and difficulties in activities of daily living. But research shows that maintaining social connections can have a positive effect on health.
Kim said it’s important to build new relationships to replace the ones you’ve lost.
“What usually happens is people stop making new friends. Re-enable the mechanisms to meet people who were there earlier in life,” he said, like joining a club or participate in community organizations. “Reach out to people more, instead of being on autopilot.”
Sometimes people lose their mobility as they age and may not be able to engage in the activities that brought them joy when they were younger. Kim suggests trying to “redeploy that energy in a new way,” like teaching a skill or craft instead of practicing it.
Or learn something new that’s less physically demanding, Giasson said. Research suggests that older adults who learn new skills can improve their memory, self-esteem, and overall quality of life.
“Don’t fall for the idea that it’s too late to try something new,” she said. “It’s never too late, and you’re never too old to explore new interests.”