By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga
Western culture often doesn’t paint a pleasant picture of aging. Advertisements focus on incontinence, sexual dysfunction and plastic surgery while actresses are considered “over the hill” by the time they reach their 40s. And when older adults are featured in television shows or movies, their characters usually are used for some level of comic relief through showcasing their physical or mental decline.
Those cultural norms may have an even more devastating effect than we realize since researchers increasingly are finding that our views of aging influence how we physically and mentally age. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that noted that if we think of aging as a time of decline, our health will follow suit. However, our bodies will respond with vigor if we believe that aging offers new adventures and opportunities to grow. In her recent book, “Goddesses Never Age,” Dr. Christiane Northrup noted that studies show that our perceptions of aging can have a greater effect on our longevity than low cholesterol, low blood pressure, low body mass index and not smoking.
So what are some of the ways you can counter aging? Here are three easy ways to fight this battle:
– Be aware of cultural messages about aging. Dr. Northrup recommends identifying and closing all cultural portals that disparage aging in order to embrace new ways to remain ageless. Her advice ranges from rejecting a merchant’s senior discount to reviewing one’s self-talk in order to root out disparaging thoughts and comments about aging.
– Embrace meditation and mindfulness. A blog by Seth Segall and David S. Black for the American Society on Aging points to studies indicating meditation and mindfulness affect how people age. For instance, a mindful practice is proven to aid people suffering from pain or depression; this practice also improves brain and immune system function. Furthermore, meditation reduces age-related decline in several parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, gray matter and white matter. Mindfulness and meditation also has been linked to longer telomeres, which are segments at the end of chromosomes that become shorter with age and chronic stress. Scientists use these telomeres as biomarkers for cellular aging. The best news is that researchers now believe that meditation may not only slow the aging process, but even be able to reverse these declines at both the neurological and chromosomal level.
– Focus on balance. Many people find they lose their sense of balance as they age. One of the reasons is an impaired vestibular system. To counter this issue, Dr. Northrup recommends regularly standing on one leg while closing your eyes, and then repeating this exercise on the other leg. Practices such as tai chi, Qigong and yoga also can enhance balance.
While aging is a natural part of life, much of what we experience is based on our own state of mind. By changing our mental patterns and embracing a few new habits, we can take charge of how we age and make strides toward becoming ageless.
Northrup, C. (2015). Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. Hay House.
Segall, S. & Black, D. S. (2014). Can Meditation Slow the Aging Process? American Society on Aging.
Tergesen, A. (2015). To Age Well, Change How You Feel About Aging. The Wall Street Journal.