Speaking of a Better Age

I attended the Georgia Gerontology Society conference last week, and as in years past, there was lots of inspiration and information shared on how to improve the experience of aging.

There were sessions on using technology, self-help wellness programs, and a beautiful and touching look at the realities of living with dementia. There was also a session on spirituality that engaged participants in a profound exploration of what we use to stay connected to the sacred and what we need to begin to release. The conference closed with an energizing session on making exercise more enjoyable and fun.

It was my privilege to be one of the presenters at this year’s conference. My session was called Mind Shift: Changing How You Age Starts with Changing Your Mind. My intent was to help those dedicated to serving the needs of older adults help themselves. Participants explored how they felt about getting older and discussed common aging stereotypes. Then I shared research evidence that demonstrates how important our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes are to aging well. Finally, I guided them in a method for shifting our mindset in a more positive direction.

We all know that blood pressure and cholesterol levels, physical activity and diet, as well as not smoking and not overdoing alcohol consumption all impact our ability to age well. But not many know that our mindset about aging has a much more dramatic effect on our health, well-being, and even on how long we live. Not smoking, for example, can add on average two years to life expectancy. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels adds up to four years. By comparison, a positive attitude about own aging can add seven-and-a-half years.

With lots of negative information and images hitting us from all directions, it’s hard to have a positive attitude about getting older. But knowing the difference a mindset can make is reason enough to try. How positive is your attitude on aging? Here are some of the items used to measure it. Which of these statements would you agree with?

“Things keep getting worse as I get older.”

“I have as much pep as I did last year.”

“As you get older, you get less useful.”

“I am as happy now as when I was younger.”

How would you fill in the blank on this one? “As I get older things are __________ (better than/worse than/the same as) I thought they would be.”

Recognize what kind of attitude you have on aging. That reminds me of a song from 1970 by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions called “Check Out Your Mind.” If you’re interested in living better and living longer, then make sure your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitude are taking you in the direction you really want to go. If not, it’s time for a mind shift.

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