What does it mean to be “psychologically young”? It’s not about wrinkle creams, plastic surgery, or injections to make you look younger. It’s about having a positive mental attitude, staying cognitively and physically active, and having a high-quality life.
How long you live and the quality of your life are, to a great extent, under your control. Apart from all the studies that show how lifestyle choices such as exercise and diet play a role in longevity, there’s also a good body of research that links positive attitude with the number of years people live. For example, one studyinvolving 100,000 women found that women who were optimists were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease than pessimists. Another study found that optimists were less likely to become frail. Frailty was defined as impaired strength or endurance, balance problems, as well as vulnerability to trauma and other stresses.
Want to live longer and stay younger as you age? Here are eight ways to stay psychologically young, add years to your life, and boost the quality of those years.
Develop a positive mental attitude.
How you feel about getting older can actually affect how long you live. This gets tested more as you age because of an emphasis on youthfulness in our culture. You must have goals and look forward to the future, irrespective of your actual age. Will you look forward to the future when you are 75 or 85 as much as you did when you were 25? If the answer is “yes,” your positive attitude will help keep you going.
Don’t act your age.
You are only as old as you feel. The key to psychological health is how you feel inside, not your chronological age or your physical appearance. Feeling old is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a person genuinely feels too old to do a physical activity, such as hiking a mountain, she is apt to cut back on the activity. Once she does, her muscles will start to shrink from lack of use, and her bones may get smaller, and she may cut back her activities even more. Avoid this rut by continually doing things like exercise as you age. You are as young as you feel.
Resist mobility aids until you need them.
Don’t use a scooter or a motorized wheelchair unless you really need to. It’s too easy to become dependent on such mobility aids because they are easier than doing the work our bodies need and crave. If walking tires you out, walk slowly and walk often to build up your strength and endurance. The more often you exercise and use your muscles, the less tired you’ll feel. As activities become more difficult, resist the urge to give up. Instead, maintain or improve your existing fitness level by continuing to remain active or gradually ramp up to where you want to be.
Continue working in retirement.
Many studies have shown a correlation between early retirement and earlier death. A recent one showed that for every extra year of early retirement, workers lost about two months of life expectancy. Many people can’t wait to retire, because their jobs are stressful and they don’t take enough vacations. But having a job gives you something to look forward to. You learn new things through work and develop social networks, important activities to have throughout life. Work, actual or volunteer, is in part what keeps people living to advanced ages. If your full-time career is too taxing, consider working part-time, switching to a less stressful job, or volunteering.
When you have health problems, keep your chin up.
Even if you have a disease or illness that’s impacting your life, having a positive attitude will keep you healthier and could extend your life. One team of researchersanalyzed 35 studies of populations with existing health conditions. The people who had optimistic outlooks during the duration of the studies had significantly less risk of dying than those with pessimistic attitudes.
See aging as an opportunity.
Self-perception of aging has a greater impact on survival than blood pressure and cholesterol levels. That’s what one recent study found when the researchers measured the functional health of participants aged 50 or older over the course of 18 years. The ones who lived longest demonstrated a positive outlook about their future and their ability to function effectively. Those who believed aging was no big deal were able to climb stairs, do housework, work full-time, go out socially, and do other activities associated with younger people. And they lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive ideas about aging.
Ignore negative stereotypes about aging.
A study out of North Carolina State University found that negative stereotypes have a negative effect on memory performance. People were exposed to negative words associated with aging, such as “cranky,” “senile,” or “feeble,” or positive aging words such as “active,” “accomplished,” and “knowledgeable.” Adults 57-82 performed more poorly on memory tests when they were exposed to the negative stereotypes before taking the tests. In contrast, when these same adults were exposed to the positive stereotypes, they performed significantly better and as well as people in their teens and 20s.
Have goals for the future.
Draw up lists of things to do. This is important regardless of your age, particularly for those who are retired. While work itself can keep you younger, there is more to life than just work. Look forward to life in general. You must have personal goals and aspirations, as well as professional ones. These can be career goals, personal interest goals (e.g., take up a new sport, start a new hobby, read Shakespeare’s plays), physical goals, cognitive goals (e.g., learning a language, taking up crossword puzzles), or nutritional goals. Goals help you grow and develop at any age.
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