Study: Think Positive, Live Longer

How you think about older people doesn't just impact the way you interact with them, it can also change the way you age, with positive thinkers living longer, more fulfilling lives.

That's according to Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health who studied people's attitudes on aging and the elderly.

Levy worked with research subjects who were in middle age, and asked the participants about their views on aging and older people. The positive thinkers viewed the elderly as experienced or wise, while others thought of them as weak or dependent, according to NPR.

The people who thought positively of the elderly lived on average seven and a half years longer than those who had a negative view of aging.

Other studies seem to support that connection: People who viewed aging negatively were more likely to suffer from cognitive impairments later in life, while people who don't stress about aging "had a significantly slower rate" of cognitive decay, according to a study Levy co-authored in 2013 with two medical doctors and another psychologist. The study also suggested people who took aging in stride were more likely to recover from health setbacks.

"Positive age stereotypes may promote recovery from disability through several pathways: limiting cardiovascular response to stress, improving physical balance, enhancing self-efficacy, and increasing engagement in healthy behaviors," the study's authors wrote.

That last part seems to be key as people retire. People who have a purpose in life and fill their days with activities often live longer, more fulfilling lives, the data shows.

"People who have the sense that their life is meaningful are much less likely to suffer early mortality, they're less like to develop disability, that is, trouble taking care of themselves," neuropsychologist Patricia Boyle of Chicago's Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center told NPR.

Jim Shute of Medford, Oregon, wakes up early, reads The Wall Street Journal and local papers, takes walks almost daily, does his own yard work, and engages in hobbies like refinishing furniture and hunting for morel mushrooms, according to NPR -- and he turned 95 in April.

While conventional wisdom suggests aging is a process people can't impact, Dr. Luigi Ferrucci told NPR that science is proving how positive attitudes, staying busy and participating in challenging activities can help people extend their life spans and also increase their quality of life as they age.

Ferrucci, a geriatrician and scientific director at the National Institute on Aging, says that although aging is inevitable, "there's a lot we can do about it."

"There's some destiny; we are children of our genome and what we inherit from our parents," Ferrucci told NPR. "But we can do a lot to avoid the destiny that was predisposed to us."

Sources: NPR (2), National Institutes of Health / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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