For Healthy Aging, Nix the Negativity

We all know aging can be a bit of a bummer. Our hair turns gray, our minds start to slow down and some features of our DNA change. However, perhaps the secret to aging well is simply a question of mind over matter. New research out of Ireland is exploring that very possibility. Essentially, the science says turning those frowns upside down may lead to better health later in life.

Main Findings
Researchers in Dublin looked at more than 4,000 subjects involved in the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging. Participants were asked to complete a brief aging perception questionnaire along with various tests for cognition and frailty. Fundamentally, the scientists found that individuals with poor aging perceptions (i.e., unhappiness due to their age) also had declines in cognition and strength. Furthermore, these mental and physical declines were not seen in the participants who possessed a more positive outlook on their current age. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Deirdre Robertson, these results suggest that “the way we think about, talk about and write about ageing may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards ageing are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health.”

Why It Matters
Clearly the role of the mind in healthy aging should not be ignored. We’ve addressed this topic before, noting the vast amount of research already available on the subject. Additionally, there are several meta-analyses (studies that analyze lots of other studies, making them a research gold standard) supporting the idea that even just negative stereotypes of aging can impact one’s overall health.

So, What Should We Do?
Put simply, you can change your mindset. Avoid associations that involve age and something negative. Positivity often requires constant self checks—“Am I putting myself down?” “Why am and I thinking negatively?” Furthermore, this meta-analysis found that social interaction, low stress lifestyles and consistent exercise all decrease rates of mortality while lifting the spirits. So much of aging involves involuntary processes, which can be a total downer. However, as this new research shows, staying ahead of the aging game isn’t impossible … we can start by simply smiling.

(Feature photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

Samantha Lunsky

Samantha Lunsky is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.