Your Bad Attitude About Aging May Add 7.5 Years To Your Life

When Yale University professor Becca Levy began her decades-long research into the psychology of aging, she would often ask people to come up with five words to describe older adults. In the United States, the most common answer is “amnesia.” In China, it is “wisdom”.

As her research found, the answer to this question had a big impact. Your answer could radically change your age—even add 7.5 years to your lifespan.

In a new book, “Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long You’ll Live,” Levy draws on decades of research and interviews to show how positive age beliefs can be for enjoying our golden years and keeping us healthy The essential.

“In study after study I conducted, I found that older adults with more positive views of aging performed better physically and cognitively than those with more negative views of aging,” Levy wrote. “They are more likely to recover from a severe disability, they remember better, they walk faster, they even live longer.”

Levy’s discovery is more timely than ever. For the first time in history, there are more people in the world over the age of 64 than under the age of 5. Some even refer to it as a “silver tsunami” or “grey wave.”

But as we live longer than ever, the perception of age in America is only going to become more negative. From TV shows to commercials to who gets access to quality health care and jobs — ageism abounds, and American culture sees old age as inevitably meaning “forgetfulness, frailty, and decline.”

For the first time in history, there are now more people over the age of 64 than under the age of 5.

As one older British woman wrote to Levy: “I am, frankly, ashamed of being old. Why? Because society tells me it is shameful.”

When we ourselves reach old age, Levy says, the age stereotype we absorb in our youth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: We are ready to expect our minds and bodies to decline in old age — so we Less likely to engage in behaviors that keep us healthy as futile.

The good news: Regardless of your age, Levy’s research shows that your notion of age isn’t fixed. Levy found that we all have positive beliefs about aging—they just need to be activated.

A key way to develop more positive beliefs is to celebrate older adults who break negative age stereotypes and demonstrate that getting older is a good thing.

Here, we can all learn lessons from our elders and Levy’s research to help us take care of our longevity, memory, and physical health.

“Longevity” is prevalent in Japan, where the world’s oldest woman, 119-year-old Kane Tanaka, is hailed as a national treasure.
Kyodo News via Getty Images

celebrate aging

On January 2, Kane Tanaka crossed a historic milestone she shared with the Twitterverse (with the help of her great-granddaughter): the supercentenarian turned 119 years old.

Tanaka, who lives in a nursing home on an island in Japan’s Okinawa region, is the oldest person in the world. Tanaka was born in 1903 and worked at her husband’s rice shop from the age of 19 to 103, according to CNN.

Today, she is regarded as a celebrity in Japan and even starred in a Japanese reality show. On Japan’s national holiday, Keiro No Hi, which translates to “Respect for the Aged Day,” her entire town throws parties for her to celebrate the nation’s elders.

“Japan [treat] Old age is a joy, a fact of being alive, not something to fear or resent,” Levy wrote.

If our society is to shift to a “longevity” mentality in a similar fashion to Japanese culture: Levy’s research suggests this effect could change longevity forever.

Most of Levy’s findings came from analyzing longitudinal studies — a gold mine for any researcher studying aging. In a study in Oxford, Ohio, Levy found that the initial survey asked participants about their age beliefs, including things like “Do you agree or disagree that you become less useful as you get older?” The problem.

People with a positive attitude toward aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a negative attitude toward aging. One of the many benefits of aging? Finally had time to travel.
People with a positive attitude toward aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a negative attitude toward aging. One of the many benefits of aging? Finally had time to travel.
Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

In the study, which spanned more than 20 years, Levy found that participants with the most positive age beliefs lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with the most negative age beliefs.

Age beliefs determined participants’ longevity more than gender, race, socioeconomic status, age, and health—and they added greater survival advantages than some of our most touted secrets to longevity, like lowering cholesterol (which added additional four years of life) or avoid smoking (three more years of life).

In her findings published in 2002, Levy called for action, writing that ageism should be seen as an “unknown virus” that was found to shorten our lives by seven years.

She even testified at an age discrimination hearing on Capitol Hill after the study was published, playing Raymond’s mom in “Everybody Loves Raymond” with the late actress Doris Roberts.

“When my grandchildren say I rock, they’re not talking about chairs,” Roberts, then 76, told the senators. “My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive, demanded rather than deserved… Later years are probably the most productive and creative years of our lives.”

John Basinger started reciting “Paradise Lost” in his 60s, a positive thinking task that improves memory.
Heart Connecticut Media

exercise your memory

When John Basinger was turning 60, he set a goal that would dwarf any birthday card for a “senior moment”: He planned to recite and play John Milton’s entire epic, Paradise Lost, for a total of 60,000 Multiple characters.

The retired actor from Middletown, Connecticut, started the challenge in 1992, learning seven lines at a time while walking on a treadmill in the gym. Eight years later, he dedicated all 12 books to memory and performed for the public in a three-day marathon recital.

Today, the 84-year-old Basinger tells Levy that he still remembers all of Paradise Lost — and he remembers other works, including parts of King Lear, since he was in Middletown in 2014 played a titular role in one of the works.

Basinger told Levy that he drew inspiration from the late Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who practiced and played into his 90s.

“John is living proof that when a perfectly average memory is combined with a willingness to work like a muscle and the right notion of age, it’s a remarkable thing,” Levy wrote.

Members of the National Theater of the Deaf; Ray Parks Jr. (left) and John Basinger discuss production at the Bonfils Theater.
Ray Parks Jr. (left), a member of the National Theatre for the Deaf, discusses production with John Basinger.
Denver Post via Getty Images

In her lab, Levy found that older participants who received positive aging stereotypes (including words like “wise” and “alert”) for ten minutes improved their performance on subsequent memory tasks. Also: memory decline in participants triggered by negative stereotypes like “older” and “confused.”

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) also showed that over a 38-year period, people with positive age beliefs at the start of the study had 30 percent higher memory scores in old age than those with negative age beliefs.

BLSA also helped Levy find that participants with negative views of age were more likely to develop a biomarker of Alzheimer’s — brain dissections showed “their hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, contracted at a rate of Three times the original.”

That’s probably what Basinger has been doing — he joked with Hartford Courant before the Milton Marathon that the memory process was his “12-step plan to fight Alzheimer’s.”

91-year-old nun Madonna “Iron Nun” Buder isn’t letting the myth of inactivity in her later years slow her down.
Associated Press

keep sweating and swimming

At the age of 48, Sister Madonna Budd strapped on a pair of borrowed running shoes and started her first run. She told Triathlon that a priest encouraged her to give it a try. “He mentioned that running has many benefits, including a way of ‘aligning mind, body and soul,'” she said.

What started as a half-mile run turned into a sprint, then a marathon and then, four years later, her first triathlon.

Madonna Bude stands in the waters of Kailua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii at the start of the 2002 Ironman World Championships.
Madonna Bude stands in the waters of Kailua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii at the start of the 2002 Ironman World Championships.
Associated Press

Now known as the “Triathlon,” she has completed more than 350 triathlons since, most recently at the age of 91. She is currently the world record holder for the oldest woman to complete a triathlon, which is 82 she has won at this age.

When Levy interviewed Sister Madonna, the nun shared that her father inspired her to stay active in her old age—he rowed and played handball into her 70s. “There’s no point in being afraid of aging because you never know what’s in front of you,” Sister Madonna told Levy.

Wilhelmina Delco holds a similar view. The 90-year-old former Texas statesman’s first exposure to swimming at age 80 earned her the nickname “Old Lady Swimming at the Y.”

90-year-old Wilhelmina Delco cheered from the crowd as thousands marched from the University of Texas to the State Capitol to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.
Wilhelmina Delco, 90, joined the crowd cheering as thousands marched from the University of Texas to the State Capitol to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Corbis via Getty Images

What started as a practice to help relieve arthritis quickly turned into a passion, and it was a new chapter for her following her legacy of civic service. “I’m proud of my age, not some weird exception,” she told Levy.

Levy found that people with negative views of age were less physically active, and a longitudinal study showed that people over 50 with a positive view of age were physically more active over 18 years than their peers with a negative view of age.

One of her lab experiments even showed that participants who started 10 minutes with positive age beliefs “immediately exhibited faster walking speeds and better balance.”

break the age code

Levy’s conclusion: It’s a myth that we can’t move in old age. “Whether you decide to start running at 60, jump into the pool for the first time at 70, or continue walking at any age, it’s not about when you do what you do, not when you build positive age beliefs and believe in your The body responds accordingly,” she wrote.

Just take a cue from Sister Madonna, the first words that come to her mind when she thinks about aging: “Wisdom and grace. There’s running and chance. And wine.”


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