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A Positive Mindset Can Increase Longevity

by Beth on May 13th, 2022

In my last post, I wrote about how your mindset regarding stress determines its impacts on you. Your mindset shapes your health and well-being in many profound ways. In her recent book, Breaking the Age Code, Yale professor Becca Levy discusses her research showing that your beliefs about aging determine how long and how well you live.

Her most surprising study tracked middle-aged adults for 20 years and found that those with a positive perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer on average than those with negative beliefs about aging. In another study Levy and her colleagues followed hundreds of adults for 38 years. Those with the most positive views of aging had an 80 percent lower risk of heart attack.

Levy has also shown that among people who have the gene variant which puts them at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, those with positive age beliefs were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with negative views. This means someone with the variant who has a positive perception of aging has the same risk of developing Alzheimer’s as someone without it. Positive age beliefs are associated with better memory, better hearing, and faster recovery from accidents.

How is it that our beliefs regarding aging can have such a powerful impact on our health and longevity? One reason is that people who have a positive view of aging are more likely to do things that are good for them, like exercising, eating healthy diets, and following their doctors’ advice. Another reason is that the cortisol levels of people who have positive views of aging decrease by 10 percent from age 50 to age 80, while cortisol levels rise about 40 percent over the same period for people who have negative attitudes. Their negative beliefs about growing old are stressing them out. Chronic stress can trigger chronic inflammation, which causes all sorts of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Sadly, American society has negative stereotypes about aging. There is ageism in hiring. Advertising bombards us with negative messages. Companies present aging as something scary that we should try to avoid so we buy more anti-aging products. Social media is also full of negative messaging about aging.

The good news is that changing your beliefs is relatively simple. The key is to increase awareness. One exercise, called age belief journaling, starts with writing down any portrayals of aging that you notice in advertising, on shows, in conversations, etc. After one week, you count how many examples are positive and how many are negative. For the negative portrayals see if you can come up with a way the image could have been more positive. Another exercise is to create a portfolio of positive examples of aging, like someone in your family or a character in a book. This can help make images of positive aging more salient in your mind. You want to focus on the positive aspects of aging, of which there are many!

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