Can you delay aging by refusing to act your age?
Age and aging are subjective experiences that can vary widely from person to person. How individuals perceive their own age and the aging process can be influenced by various factors — cultural norms, societal expectations, and personal attitudes.
Some people may view aging as a natural and positive part of life, embracing the wisdom and experiences that come with it. They may have a more optimistic outlook on aging, which can contribute to better overall well-being.
But the main question is — can the way we perceive age and aging somehow influence the way we actually age?
Our perception of age
Just a century ago, 60 years was considered an old age. Today, it’s an age of retirement in many countries.
The development of science and better healthcare practices allows us to live longer. Of course, it depends on the country, but overall, you wouldn’t say that 65 years is a very long life.
But what do the studies show?
We see an interesting tendency here. In 2018, 500,000 people completed an online survey about what they consider middle age and old age. It turns out, people in their 20s and 30s on average think that old age starts at 62. People in their 60s, however, raise this number to 71.
As people get old, they tend to refuse to treat their age as “old”. When you’re 40, you want to believe your life is in its prime. When you’re 60, you want to believe your health is better than when you were 40. Aging is somewhat stigmatized — no one wants to belong to the “inferior” social group.
One might think that thinking you’re younger than you actually are is a perfect escapism situation. But, as it turns out, a positive attitude toward your health and age contributes to actually being healthier in your senior years.
Age-positive attitude and health
The age at which someone considers themselves old can tell us a lot about them. For example, when people think they're getting old, it might make them reflect on their health. If they have health problems or an unhealthy lifestyle, they might feel less well and think they're aging faster.
People who believe old age begins later tend to take better care of their health. On the other hand, those who think it starts earlier might be less likely to seek medical help or adopt healthy habits, thinking that decline is unavoidable. This could lead them to be less active when they should actually be more active for their well-being.
Age-positive attitude makes people more perceptive about their health. They think positively about their future, planting the seeds for a healthier life while they can do it. On the opposite, a pessimistic approach makes people miss opportunities to invest in their health as they think aging and everything bad that comes with it is definitely unavoidable.
For example, when people believe aging leads to memory problems, they may stop trusting their memory. This negative view of aging can cause stress, which in the long run may lead to health issues like chronic inflammation. So, conforming to stereotypes of older people could make the problems they fear more likely to happen.
How does a psychological factor affect the perception of age?
Acceptance is the first step towards an age-positive attitude. When one accepts their age and the realities that come with it, they by default have more time to reflect on their health and take appropriate steps towards improving it.
Psychological factors play a significant role in shaping the perception of age.
Optimistic individuals often display resilience and adaptability in the face of aging-related challenges. They are more likely to seek solutions to age-related issues, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying socially active, and seeking medical advice when needed.
Accepting your age and being proactive about it can actually make you live longer — at least this is what studies have shown. It also showed that participants who believed old age started earlier were more likely to experience heart problems and poor physical health when they were checked up six to nine years later.
Benefits of a positive attitude towards the age
So, does it really work? Well, there certainly are some advantages to being optimistic about your age.
- People who have a positive self-perception of aging tend to be more optimistic about getting older. They view aging as an opportunity for personal growth, wisdom, and new experiences rather than a decline. This positive mindset can contribute to better mental and emotional well-being.
- Optimism and a positive outlook on aging can reduce stress. Chronic stress can lead to various health problems, so a less stressed outlook can contribute to better long-term health.
- People who accept their old age without being pessimistic are more likely to adopt proactive health habits. They understand that taking care of their health can enhance their quality of life in their later years. This may include regular exercise, a balanced diet, and regular medical check-ups.
- Optimistic individuals often maintain strong social connections crucial for mental and emotional well-being. Social engagement can provide support and motivation for staying healthy and active in old age.
Research suggests that a positive attitude towards aging can have psychosomatic effects, improving physical health outcomes. When people believe they can age well, their bodies may respond more positively, improving overall health.
Positive mentality and aging
A study led by Susanne Wurm from the University of Greifswald in Germany looked into the perception of old age. Surprisingly, it found that those with a negative view of aging were not more likely to have early deaths. However, those who embraced old age as a time for learning and making new plans tended to live longer on average. Interestingly, in this study, it wasn't so much about what people thought about physical aging — it was more about their belief in continued mental growth.
This study suggests that a positive outlook on the potential for mental growth in old age may significantly impact longevity, highlighting the importance of staying mentally active and optimistic as we age.
As it was highlighted earlier, a positive attitude toward aging can affect not only mental health but also the body’s physical response.
The reality of aging
While none of the studies offer a way to stop or reverse aging, it's important to recognize that aspects like memory, vision, muscle mass, skin conditions, bone strength, and hearing abilities naturally decline with age. Additionally, older individuals are more susceptible to various illnesses. It’s highly unlikely that a way to reverse natural aging processes even exists.
However, it's essential to remember that all these studies deal with averages, so identifying as not being middle-aged won't prevent everyone from experiencing health issues as they age. We still age and we still experience everything that comes with it: slower metabolism, weaker memory, wrinkled skin.
As we age and face health challenges, it's important not to attribute everything to old age alone. Most importantly, we should never lose sight of our potential for better health and continue believing in our ability to achieve it. Embracing this attitude can lead to both a longer life and more enjoyment during those years.