Friday, June 14, 2024

How Well We Age Has A Lot To Do With Our Attitude, Studies Determine

Aging is part of life. So why don’t we forget about the aging part and concentrate on just life instead? Or better yet, on living. Because, as Jennifer Weeks, an associate at the Toronto-based management consulting firm BEworks knows, the benefits of a positive outlook can go well beyond contributing to our enjoyment of life.

A healthy attitude can extend our lives
Weeks, who holds a PhD and MA in cognitive psychology and a B.Sc in behavioural neuroscience, references a study conducted by Becca R. Levy and a team from Yale and Miami University. Based on a sample of 660 individuals aged 50-plus, older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging, measured up to 23 years earlier, lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with less positive beliefs.

At 90 years old, Instagram sensation BaddieWinkle flaunts her style and demonstrates her unshakeable confidence. Photo: Instagram/BaddieWinkle.

So why aren’t we all enthusiastically embracing our golden years? Reality is one possibility. It’s not all fun and games. Weeks points out, “Some loss is inevitable as we age — vision, mobility, friends — and it must be acknowledged. But the news is not all bad.”

While working on her PhD in cognitive aging at Toronto’s Baycrest, she studied how our ability to concentrate decreases with age and the implications for memory. It turns out older people outperform younger age groups when it comes to vocabulary, remembering facts and trivia, decision making and regulating emotions.

We don’t hear all the good news, though. “We’re influenced by what comes easily to mind — the negative stories,” Weeks explains. “And that can shape our attitude towards aging. If we believe we’re incapable a barrier goes up.”

As an example, Weeks refers to a study led by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences. After reviewing 73 studies published over the last 45 years, it found that older adults who stay active by volunteering receive a health boost. But the issue is that many of them worry about trying to do something new. “Behavioural scientists identify the barriers and remove them,” she says. One way of doing that is volunteer shadowing, which allows would-be participants to try out opportunities before making a commitment. 

Karin Dresher, 63, overcame physical and emotional obstacles to become a fitness instructor. Photo: Supplied.

How one Torontonian recognized what was holding her back
In Karin Dresher’s case, it was pain. Dresher, a Toronto justice of the peace who will soon turn 63, has a family history of joint issues and arthritis. “I felt there was a genetic target on my body,” she says. “And even with healthy eating and regular exercise, by my mid 50s, I was hurting and realized that if my body isn’t working it’s hard to have a productive life.”

Prompted by a conversation with a friend, she tried Essentrics, a simple daily exercise program that works all the muscles in the body she says. “My knee problems and cramping mostly disappeared.” That convinced Dresher to train to become an instructor and, since 2015, in addition to her day job, she teaches Essentrics on weekends.

Not easily daunted, she focused on her desire to teach and help others, instead of worrying about being the oldest in her class. “It also helped that my age wasn’t an issue for anyone else either,” she explains. “I was never made to feel I didn’t belong.”  

Maybe Dresher’s attitude had something to do with that. She believes in challenging herself and getting out of her comfort zone. “Nothing stays the same,” she believes. “You can adapt to the change or fall behind.” That’s not an option for Dresher. Nor should it be for the rest of us.

As a company that is a major player in the senior living sector, Revera is committed to helping older adults live their best lives. In 2016, its president and CEO, Thomas G. Wellner, spoke at Toronto’s Empire Club about a recently published report about the challenges faced by those over the age of 65. The key takeaway message from his speech was that aging is another stage of our lives that can be rich with learning, opportunity and tremendous happiness.

People like Karin Dresher have figured that out. And, as baseball legend Satchel Paige once said: “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. 

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Fransi Weinstein
Fransi Weinstein
A former Montrealer, Fransi enjoyed a long and fabulous career as an ad agency writer and creative director. After deciding she wanted to completely switch gears and turn her love of storytelling into writing articles – as well as wanting more time to blog and work on a book, she gave up her full-time career to go freelance in 2009. Since then, she has written on everything from politics in Huff Post to speaking out in defense of animals for Get Leashed Magazine and age issues.