Did you know that changing how you think can increase your lifespan, make you healthier and improve your memory, too? It’s true! No matter how old you are, positive change is always possible. Mindset matters!
Two beliefs to increase longevity
Being optimistic doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna in your view of the world. It does mean having:
- A general expectation that good things are coming.
- A belief that you have control over important outcomes.
Research indicates that holding these two beliefs can help you live 11-15% longer!
Grow your optimism
If you don’t have these two beliefs, don’t worry! You can teach your brain to think differently by reframing experiences that feel negative.
Start by writing down an experience that carries negative emotions. Read what you wrote. Then, rewrite the experience in a more positive light.
For instance, new physical limitations might offer you a chance to practice creativity. Or the loss of a friend may give you the opportunity to remember all your good times together. This reframing will feel forced at the beginning, but keep going! You are training your brain to think in new ways.
Learn resilience to live longer
Resilient people—those who react positively to adversity—are more likely to reach older ages than people who are not resilient. Resilience is another character trait that you can develop no matter how old you are now.
Begin by exposing yourself to challenges. The challenges can be:
- Physical. Simply adding a new move to your exercise routine each week keeps that resilience going.
- Relational. Join a group or make a new friend!
- Intellectual. When you read a gripping book or diligently research a favorite topic, you’re building resilience.
Choosing to challenge yourself and persisting when the tasks get hard will teach your mind that challenges are not all bad.
Ageism is a set of negative stereotypes about older people and the experience of aging. These beliefs are endemic to our society. Internalizing them as you age can hamper recovery from illness, lower functional health, reduce longevity and make you more prone to depression.
Change How You Think About Aging
Getting old can be hard, but it also can be a time of deep reflection. As you age you can forge new, rich relationships or nurture the relationships you already have. And you’ll have a chance, finally, to focus on the things you care most about.
Make a list of everything that you have gained as you’ve gotten older. Then refer to your list whenever you feel down about getting older. Here are some ideas.
- More time with grandchildren. For many people, this tops the list. Grandparenting tends to be a particularly rewarding experience.
- Travel. This, too, tends to be high on the list for older people who now have the time and resources to explore the world at their own pace.
- Meeting people who broaden your outlook or have something in common with you.
- Getting outside. Maybe you’ve moved to a warmer climate or just have more time to take walks along water or on a nature trail.
- Sharpening a hobby. This can be the time you get better at your tennis game, nurture your love for photography, give your vegetable garden a fighting chance or organize your teacup collection.
- Volunteering. You may be contributing more time than ever to your favorite causes. Perhaps you’re canvassing for a candidate, organizing clothing and food drives, helping out at a hospital or reading to children in elementary schools.
- Learning new skills. It’s common to take up golf, try your hand at piano lessons or get better at technology.
- Branch out professionally. Some people view retirement as the end of their first career. Considering they may have many vital years ahead of them, they become a consultant/coach in their industry, open a little shop or launch an entirely new business.
Improving your mindset won’t just make you feel better mentally and emotionally; it also will change the way your body ages. When you think optimistically, develop resilience and combat ageism, you’ll have a better shot at fighting disease, avoiding depression and living longer.
Lee, Lewina O., James, Peter, Zevon, Emily S., Kim, Eric S., Trudel-Fitzgerald, Claudia, Spiro, Avron III, Grodstein, Francine, and Kubzansky, Laura D. (2019). Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women. PNAS, September 10, 2019 116 (37) 18357-18362; first published August 26, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1900712116
Zeng, Yi, and Shen, Ke (2010). Centenarian Studies: Important Contributors to our Understanding of the Aging Process and Longevity. Hindawi, Volume 2010, https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/525693
Nelson, T. D. (2016). Promoting healthy aging by confronting ageism. American Psychologist, 71(4), 276–282. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0040221
Levy, Becca R., Slade, Martin D., Kasl, Stanislav V., Longitudinal Benefit of Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging on Functional Health. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 57, Issue 5, 1 September 2002, Pages P409–P417, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/57.5.P409