Here’s a question worth asking yourself:
As a woman growing older in a culture obsessed with youth, what are your beliefs about aging?
Are the first words you think of things like forgetful, frail, ugly, helpless, invisible, or out of touch?
Because research shows that the better our attitude about aging, the better our aging experience will be, both physically and emotionally.
While in graduate school at Harvard, psychologist, and researcher Becca Levy, Ph.D., was awarded a fellowship to live in Japan for a semester. She wanted to investigate if the reason for the Japanese people’s exceptionally long life spans had something to do with their positive beliefs about aging.
Unlike the negative stereotypes prevalent in American culture, the Japanese treat aging as a vital and enjoyable phase of life, even dedicating a holiday called “Respect for the Aged Day” to celebrate it.
In the US, it was a different cultural picture. Everywhere I looked, in TV shows, in fairy tales, and online, old age was treated as though it meant forgetfulness, weakness, and decline.
After returning home, Becca conducted many research studies to test the impact of age stereotypes on the health and lives of older people.
It turns out, individuals with positive perceptions of aging live about seven and a half years longer than those with negative beliefs. This longevity advantage remains valid even after accounting for factors like gender, socioeconomic status, age, loneliness, and baseline health.
Becca’s research also found that people who embraced positive age beliefs performed better both physically and mentally. So their health spans and quality of life were better as they aged.
The good news is that age beliefs aren’t set in stone, and her team discovered evidence that they can be changed. Even brief exposure to positive or negative messages can impact how older individuals perform on memory tasks in a laboratory setting.
The Age Liberation Movement
In her book, Breaking the Age Code, Becca outlines a plan to change our minds about aging. She suggests becoming aware of, and taking action against, the negative messaging that affects our health.
Making a list of admirable older individuals and noting positive qualities we’d like to strengthen as we age can be steps in the right direction.
Here are a few more tips:
Defy ageist stereotypes: Acknowledge and confront negative assumptions about aging within ourselves and throughout society.
Cultivate intergenerational bonds: Promote interactions between people of various age groups to foster empathy and mutual understanding.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle: Regularly participate in physical activities, maintain a balanced diet, and prioritize stress management.
Foster social connections: Build meaningful relationships with friends, family, and the community to establish a robust social support system.
Becca believes that reducing negative age beliefs is essential throughout life, and she sees a hopeful trend for an age liberation movement on the horizon.
Like other types of discrimination being addressed in workplaces, ageism may soon be challenged and dismantled too. Becca emphasizes the importance of leadership from older individuals and the inclusion of younger allies in this movement for a brighter future.
Remember, your worth is not based on your youth, appearance, ability to bear children, or how much you give to others. You are inherently worthy just as you are, at any age.
So stay connected to your authentic self and zest for life and, in the words of Dr. Becca, “Let’s treat aging as a homecoming, a rediscovery, a feast of life.”
Reimagining a Healthier Relationship With Your Older Self | American Psychological Association
Book: Breaking the Age Code | Amazon
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