Want to be Younger? Change Your Views of Aging!

 

“Anti-Aging Cosmetics that take Years off of Your Face Instantly.”  Really?

Curious, I read on to find that they were advertising for the “world’s greatest wrinkle cream,” guaranteed to have an age defying formula.  I sat there, thinking and reading about supposed “clinically proven results.” And to someone who might not know better, it all sounded pretty enticing.  But…

Aging is a really “hot topic” right now – and for people of all ages.  It seems that even the very young are worried about how they will look as they get older.  They are, in greater numbers and at younger ages, seeking products or processes to reverse the aging process.

And, for those who are nearing or past retirement, it’s not just the fear of not looking good.  People have a real fear about becoming less productive.  Some fear they will be alone.  Others worry that their employers won’t want them after a certain age.  Others even worry that aging inevitably results in their body or mind becoming diseased.  And, in the broader discussion about the US healthcare system there is great concern for the fact that studies show we are living longer but we are not necessarily living healthier.

So, is there a way we can age without illness and decrepitude – perhaps even with good health and grace?

Let’s just say there are good signs pointing to “yes” and there are lots of people studying this issue – looking for solutions.  And, one emerging area of study is investigating the role that our views and attitudes about aging have on our experience.  It seems clear that how we think about aging impacts significantly our experience – for the good or the bad.

A recent study published by the Yale School of Public Health had some interesting findings – http://news.yale.edu/2012/11/20/positive-age-stereotypes-improve-recovery-among-elderly   Two groups with different views of aging were studied.  The people who felt good about older people were 44% more likely to recover from severe disability than those with negative views.  After 10 years of study, the researchers determined that “this result suggests that how the old view their aging process could have an effect on how they experience it.”  Furthermore, lead researcher Becca R. Levy found that initiatives to promote positive age stereotypes could allow people to live independently later in life.

Numerous studies also say it’s not only our attitude about aging but also our actions – how we stay involved in daily living – that is crucial. And, one aspect of staying involved – individual spiritual practices and participation in a community of faith – is increasingly tied to staying healthy.

WebMD has a feature article entitled “Spirituality May Help People Live Longer” that suggests an increasing interest in the subject of spirituality and healthy aging.  “There is an increasing interest in the subject among researchers and the public.” says Susan H. McFadden, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who is co-chair of the Religion and Aging interest group of the Gerontological Society on Aging (GSA), a national group of researchers in aging.   (Aging experts will discuss religion, spirituality and aging at the GSA annual conference in November in San Francisco.  Sessions will include a discussion of a new report — from the National Institute on Aging and the Fetzer Institute, a Michigan foundation interested in mind/body issues — that details research on the religious and spiritual dimensions of health.)  The archived feature article goes on to say that a “growing body of research is beginning to define the complex connections between religious and spiritual beliefs and practices and an individual’s physical and psychological health.”   It says that while no one says it’s as simple as going to services or “finding religion” later in life, those who are personally more spiritual are doing something that makes them feel better emotionally and helps them live longer and more healthily.

Another website, MedScape Today, has a post entitled, “Spirituality and Healthy Aging” by Helen Lavretsky.   As a result of her ongoing research about this topic, Ms. Lavretsky thinks that in individuals who are more religious, “…spirituality appears to play an
important and adaptive role in aging that seems to lead to a better quality of life and life satisfaction, as well as longevity….”

Perhaps it helps to think of aging as a process of growing in wisdom and grace, instead of moving toward deterioration.  Two favorite quotes of mine from women who never let age hold them back speak to aging with grace. Sophia Loren – active and beautiful at 79 – says this:  “There is a fountain of youth:  it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.  When you learn to tap this resource, you will have truly defeated age.”  And, an 18th century religious leader, Mary Baker Eddy, who lived to be 89 in a day when the average life-span for women was 48, shared this:  “Life and goodness are immortal.  Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.”

And in the Bible, we read that “Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.”  That says to me that we can change our thinking about aging. When we do, our experience will also change.  It’s inevitable.

Debra Chew writes about the connection between thought, spirituality and health.  She has been published in the chattanoogan.com and in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.  She is also the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science for TN.

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About Debra Chew

Debra is the legislative and media contact for Christian Science in Tennessee. She is also a Christian Science Practitioner.
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