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A Positive Attitude Can Add 7.5 Years to Your Life

positive attitude, extend the length of your life, positive perception of aging

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

With a new year upon us, many people are thinking about ways to improve their health, become more fit and possibly extend their life.

What if you had a relatively simple way to extend the length of your life? Would you be interested?

Evidence indicates we can extend our lives by embracing an approach that goes beyond the traditional strategies involving nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.

Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health recently uncovered a survival benefit associated with positive images of aging. In a follow-up to the Ohio Longitudinal Study on Aging, Levy found those who expressed a more positive self-perception of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those holding more negative perceptions. This finding is the strongest evidence to date that negative stereotypes can be an important health hazard.

People with positive perceptions of aging also:

  • Experience much higher rates of recovery from illness and injury
  • Have better brain performance and improved memory
  • Have a greater sense of control over their lives and a greater will to live
  • Are more likely to talk to a doctor about health problems, get preventive care such as blood pressure screenings and flu shots, and pursue health promotion programs

Even with this research knowledge, maintaining a positive perception of aging is challenging for some people due to the prevalence of ageism in our society. Ageism is prejudice or discrimination against or in favor of an age group.

Ageism is embedded in the workplace, health care, language, and media. Ageism existed long before it was given its name.

Ageist views can come from many sources, including a lack of knowledge about older people, lack of close interactions with older people or a fear of becoming old, which translates into a desire to distance one’s self from “being old.”

Common stereotypes depict old age as a time of poor health and functioning or a regression back to childhood. Aging stereotypes can be positive or negative, with some people holding multiple views of a person or group.

Ageist stereotypes have potentially harmful consequences. For example, people subjected to negative stereotyping may adopt the negative views and act accordingly with detrimental effects to their self-image, confidence and abilities.

Examining our personal views on aging, as well as the messages we are getting around us, is important. Encourage others to join you in promoting positive perceptions of aging that can influence our physical and mental health, and even longevity.

Ageist and discriminatory attitudes toward elders will not end until we demand them to stop. We need to be the agents for change for ourselves. That means we must accept our own aging; not sugarcoat it and accept any losses that come with years with whatever grace we can muster.

For more information on aging well, contact the NDSU Extension office at 873-5195 or visit us online at: ag.ndsu.edu/aging

Source: Jane Strommen, NDSU Extension gerontology specialist

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