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Redefining Aging: Why Having a Positive Outlook is Good for Your Health

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“Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

This simple expression is sometimes used to find out if a person is feeling optimistic or pessimistic. Researchers have found that optimists (those who tend to see the glass as half-full) experience less stress and more happiness.  

There’s no denying the mood-boosting benefits of positivity, but did you know that positive thinking can also affect how you age? It’s true; several recent studies have revealed that positive thinking has powerful effects, including the potential to add years to our lives. Let’s take a closer look at the link between positive thinking and healthy aging.

Positivity helps us cope with stress

A study from North Carolina State University found that older adults who viewed aging in a positive light experienced fewer negative emotions when faced with daily stress. Meanwhile, the older adults who had more negative attitudes toward aging showed an increase in negative emotions on stressful days.

As the study showed, having a positive attitude toward aging can buffer our reactions to stress and improve our overall resilience. Resilience is particularly important for older adults because it helps them to “bounce back” and cope after experiencing stressful events associated with aging, such as the loss of a spouse, illness, or disability.

Positivity protects our physical and cognitive health

A 2016 study by researchers in Ireland found that having a positive attitude about aging may help protect older adults’ physical and cognitive health. In the study, older adults with negative attitudes toward aging had slower walking speeds and declined cognitive abilities after two years,  compared to older adults with more positive attitudes toward aging.

Another study found that people who held negative views on aging earlier in life had a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. On the other hand, people who had positive views on aging earlier in life were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s when they reached old age.

Positivity can help us live longer

Your self-perception of aging may also impact your life expectancy. One study on positivity and aging found that older adults with a positive outlook on aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a less positive outlook toward aging. This advantage remained the same even after study controlled for factors including age, gender, income, loneliness, and health status.

Here are some tips we can all use to help maintain a positive attitude every day:

Stay social – Humans are social creatures by nature, and we crave connection with others. Continue nurturing existing relationships with friends and family, but don’t hesitate to meet new people and make new friends. Many older adults find that moving to a retirement community opens up a world of possibilities to make friends who share common interests and hobbies.

Pay it forward – Giving back to others is not only rewarding, but it can also help us build self-confidence and sustain a more positive outlook on life. Consider volunteering your time to a cause that’s important to you, whether it’s mentoring young people, sorting donations, or providing another service to your community.

Be physically and mentally active – Exercise is known to provide mood-boosting benefits that can help us stay positive and reduce stress. Try to exercise several times a week, incorporating both aerobic activity and strength training. Likewise, keep your brain fit by engaging in mentally challenging activities and learning new things. This could be reading a book, attending an informative lecture, or even playing challenging brain games like crossword puzzles or Sudoku. 

Fight stress – We all experience stress and negativity in our lives, but what’s important is trying to cope with these feelings in healthy ways. Try relieving stress by attending a fitness class or taking a walk outside. Meditation and deep breathing techniques are some other great outlets to deal with stress. Finding the best ways to relax your mind and body can make a world of difference in your overall outlook.

As you can see, healthy aging has a lot to do with building and maintaining a positive attitude and outlook on life. Because positivity leads to so many benefits that influence our health, happiness, and wellbeing, we encourage you to try these tips and reap the rewards of positive thinking, no matter your age!

Written by Bethany Lutheran Village

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