How can I add seven years to my life?

1: Do people who have a positive attitude about aging live longer?

The short answer?  

Yes.  More than seven years longer, according to researchers at Yale University who followed middle-aged adults for twenty years.

“Those who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view,” writes Kelly McGonigal in her terrific book The Upside of Stress.  

“To put that number in perspective, consider this: Many things we regard as obvious and important protective factors, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown, on average, to add less than four years to one’s life span.”

Turns out what we believe has a big impact on our longevity.  

2: Our view of aging predicts other important health outcomes, too.  Those with the most positive views of aging had an 80 percent lower risk of heart attack, according to the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which tracked adults ages eighteen to forty-nine for 38 years.  

In another study, a positive view of aging predicted faster and more complete physical recovery from a debilitating illness or accidents using objective outcomes, such as walking, speed, balance, and the ability to perform daily activities.

3: What’s going on here?  Is this some type of magic?

It’s much more practical than that, Kelly explains.  How we think about aging impacts our health and longevity not through “some mystical power of positive thinking” but by influencing our goals and choices.

The “mindset effect” doesn’t just alter our present experience.  It also impacts our future.

“People with a negative view of aging are more likely to view poor health as inevitable.  Because they feel less capable of maintaining or improving their health as they age, they invest less time and energy in their future well-being,” Kelly observes.  “In contrast, people with a positive attitude toward growing older engage in more health-promoting behaviors, like exercising regularly and following their doctor’s advice.”

Scientists at the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin followed older adults over time to track the impact of a serious illness or accident, such as a broken hip, lung disease, or cancer.  Those with a positive view of aging responded to the crisis by being proactive and dedicated to their recovery.  They also reported greater life satisfaction.  Older adults who had a more negative view of aging were “less likely to take actions to improve their health.  These choices, in turn, influenced recovery.”

How we think influences how we act.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection: What’s surprising or noteworthy to me about this research?  What is my mindset about getting older?

Action:  Share with my spouse, colleague, or friend.