There are many common prescriptions offered by the experts. They tell us that regular physical activity can add between 1 and 3 years to your life. So can not smoking. Maintaining healthy blood pressure can add up to 4 years, and the same goes for keeping cholesterol levels in check. But there’s something you can do for even greater impact.
Becca Levy, a Yale researcher, examined data from a longitudinal study that followed a large group of people for 20 years. It showed that people who had a positive attitude on aging lived, on average, 7-1/2 years longer. That’s significant.
How can you tap into that? Change your mind. Cultivate a better attitude. It’s simple, but it takes time and consistent practice. Try these three steps.
First, become more aware of the negative stereotypes about aging coming at you from every direction. There are images and messages in television shows, movies, advertising, even greeting cards telling you that getting older means disability and decline. So much misinformation is out there, it’s hard to know the truth. For example, most people believe older workers can’t be as effective as younger ones. (That’s a myth. Check out the Facts on Aging quiz.)
Second, become more conscious of the negative thoughts you have about aging. Some are disguised as idle humor, such when we say to ourselves “I’m having a senior moment.” But words matter. Thoughts held in mind can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Notice when you blame aches on aging when the truth is you simply overdid it yesterday. Catch yourself in the act of thinking you can’t do something because you’re too old. Such thoughts speed you toward the very future you fear.
Third, knowing that a positive attitude on aging can enhance your well-being and longevity, practice exchanging negative, age-accelerating thoughts with positive, life-extending thoughts. Instead of looking in the mirror and thinking “I hate the way I look” take a breath and tell yourself “I love my body because it works.” Sure, I may not be thrilled with the way my upper arms wave at the floor. But the more I move my attention to how grateful I am that I can reach out, pick up things, and hold a sweet baby close, the more attention I give to what’s there to appreciate.
A small shift in the way you think can lead to a big difference in the way you age. As Norman Vincent Peale put it, “If you want to know where you will be 5-10 years from now, all you need to do is read the thoughts that are dominant in your mind right now.”
Change your thinking and you can change the way you age.