Last year I hit the grand old age of sixty and I have to say it knocked me somewhat. Reaching forty and fifty had hardly touched me. But I wasn't ready for sixty. This got me thinking about the psychological aspects of growing old.
We have all heard of the expression that we are as old as we feel. Strangely enough, psychological research suggests that there is a degree of truth in this. Study after study has shown that people having negative associations to ageing have poorer health outcomes. For example, they have shakier handwriting, more chance of cardiac problems, are less resilient to set-backs, and on average, die about seven years earlier.
Research also suggests that, on average, after the age of forty we tend to ‘feel’ about 20% younger than we actually are. Denial of ageing can bring about its own problems – you may not be ready to deal with any real ageing challenges further down the road.
So, what can we do? Research suggests that our best bet is to be able to recognise and accept both the negative and positive aspects of ageing. So, yes, we might experience more health difficulties, but also let's not forget that many older people report higher levels of happiness and also can experience big improvements in their leisure, learning and relationships.
Exercise can also play a big part. In a recent German study, women in their seventies and older who exercised for six months not only ended up more physically fit and alert, but compared to a non-exercise group, they had a greater sense of well-being and improved attitude towards getting old. So, embracing the positive and negative aspects of ageing, and keeping active, may be key factors in enjoying a longer and healthier old age.
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