The forests are full of them. Old age stereotypes of all shapes and sizes dot the landscape of the mind. And they have a negative effect on the way we age. I am over 70 years old and have been subjected to them like everyone over 60. Fortunately, I’ve been able to counter most of them. You can too!
What are we talking about? These are some common examples. I often hear people say, “Wow, I’m having a coming-of-age moment,” which is another way of saying that because I’m getting older, I automatically forget things. But the person who says this is often under 50 years old. However, the bait is out there and has been swallowed: when you get older you lose your memory, period. This, of course, is totally false.
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 gets a big rebound for an additional 20 or 30 yards, they are said to have gotten a “senior rebound.” Then look at all the birthday and greeting cards with jokes about getting old and not being able to do much else. And we certainly cannot forget how the younger group uses the language of the elders with us. You know, that sweet pie voice with a condescending tone.
What is the danger of all this if you are a member of the oldest group and believe it? Many accept the stereotypes of aging without realizing it and, as a result, reduce their activities, become addicted to television, reduce their perspective on life, expect less of themselves and negatively affect their health. Here’s what you can do to resist the reinforcement that aging is a marked 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 on a cellular level. When you think negatively, focus on fear, or get angry, look at 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 stereotypes and focus on what you can give to your community and family. Love is the most important coping mechanism to deal with life. Tell the people you love that you love them. Be part of a nurturing community and you will find it incredibly difficult to grow old. Believe you’re not old until you stop having fun.
3. Any form of energy expenditure can be helpful in maintaining health. And research backs this up. A study of 302 people ages 70 to 82 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that any level of physical activity can prolong life. Keeping moving on a regular basis is the key. Check with your doctor first to see if there are any restrictions for you. Then incorporate the activity into your daily routines.
4. Use light weights every other day. As we age we tend to lose muscle mass. You can counteract this natural loss with light training. Start with 2-5 pound weights and 8 reps for your arms and 12 for your 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 in his twenties or eighties. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Education about diet, exercise, interpersonal relationships, and successful aging can make a difference in your health and how sharp your mind stays. Your choices are critically important to the quality of life you maintain. You can choose peace of mind and foster calmness every day or be drawn into conflict over everything you disagree with.
6. Remember that interpersonal relationships with extended family and other friends are crucial factors for happiness and longevity. Surround yourself with people you love, who are happy, and you will reduce the stress hormones that are swirling inside you. Stay in touch and don’t be embarrassed to make new friends no matter your age. Social connections are just as important as your diet.
7. Be his best friend and don’t get discouraged because he makes 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’ll strengthen your immune system and increase your longevity. There are many studies that support this approach and will show you how to do it.
So get in touch 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 short, how you age is essentially up to you. George Vaillant, a 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 reside so much in our stars and genes as in ourselves.” He should know, since he conducted one of the largest studies on why some people age more smoothly than others. So be proactive as you age and let the stereotypes remain unfounded, as they always have been.