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Why You Shouldn’t Buy Into Old Age Stereotypes
The woods are full of them. Old stereotypes of every shape and size dot the landscape of the mind. And they have a negative impact on the way we age. I am in my 70’s and have been subjected to them just like everyone else who is over 60. Fortunately, I was able to counter most of them. You can too!
What are we talking about? Here are some common examples. I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m having an old man moment,” which is another way of saying because I’m getting older, I automatically forget things. But the person who says that is often under 50. However, the bait is out there and has been swallowed: when you get old, you lose your memory, period. This, of course, is extremely false.
I also hear a different version of being an old man on the golf course. When someone hits a short drive that hits concrete pavement and they get a big bounce for an extra 20 or 30 yards, they say they got an “old bounce.” Then look at all the birthdays and greeting cards with jokes about getting old and not being able to do much anymore. And, we certainly can’t forget how the younger set use elder speech on us. You know, that loud sweet pie voice with the condescending tone.
What is the danger of all this if you are a member of the older set and believe it? Many accept the aging stereotypes without realizing it, and as a result reduce their activities, become couch potatoes, narrow their outlook on life, expect less of themselves and negatively affect their health. Here’s what you can do to resist the reinforcement that aging is a severe decline and loss of your wisdom.
1. The research is clear. What you think affects the aging process. Every thought you have has a physical effect at the cellular level. When you think negatively, focus on fear, or get angry, see what it does to you physically. On the other hand, a positive view of aging can affect the quality of your life, including memory, and the way you age.
2. Therefore, stop thinking old. Ignore the stereotypes and focus on what you can give to your community and family. Love is the most important coping mechanism for dealing with life. Tell the people you love that you love them. Be a part of a nurturing community and you will find it incredibly hard to get old. Believe that you are not old until you stop having fun.
3. Any form of energy expenditure can be useful for maintaining health. And the research backs this up. A study of 302 people aged 70-82 in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that any level of physical activity can prolong life. Keeping moving regularly is the key. Check with your Doctor first to see if he/she has any restrictions for you. Then incorporate the activity into your daily routines.
4. Use light weights every other day. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass. You can counteract this natural loss with light training. Start with 2-5 pound weights and 8 reps for the arms and 12 for the legs. Gradually increase to 20-25 for the arms and 40 for the legs.
5. Never stop learning. “Anyone who stops learning is old,” said Henry Ford, “whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Education about diet, exercise, interpersonal relationships, as well as successful aging, can make a difference in your health and the way your mind stays sharp. Your choices are critically important in the quality of life you maintain. You can choose peace and nurture peace every day or allow yourself to be conflicted about anything you don’t agree with.
6. Remember that interpersonal relationships with extended family and other friends are crucial factors in happiness and longevity. Surround yourself with people you love, who are cheerful, and you’ll reduce the stress hormones swirling around inside. Keep in touch, and don’t be afraid to develop new friends regardless of your age. Social relationships are just as important as your diet.
7. Be your own best friend and don’t get down because you make a mistake. As Buckminster Fuller said, “The only reason I know so much is because of all the failures I’ve had.” Minimize the negative emotions (anger, worry, guilt and depression) that you allow to live in your head, and you will strengthen your immune system and add to your longevity. There are many studies that support this approach and will show you how to get rid of it.
So get in touch and strengthen your beliefs in a power greater than yourself that will give you the wisdom to choose and the direction to turn your thoughts for the greater good. Learn what you can and cannot control and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
In short, how you age is basically up to you. George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University and co-author of Successful Aging, put it this way: “Active and happy old age, dear Brutus, may not lie so much in our stars and genes as in ourselves.” He should know, having conducted one of the largest studies into why some people age with fewer problems than others. So be active as you age, and let the stereotypes remain unfounded, as they always have been.
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