Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Do You Believe These Myths About Aging?

     It's fair to day that most Americans do not look forward to old age. They fear sickness and disease, their diminished physical and mental capabilities, and the attitude of younger people who often consider them irrelevant, or even amusing. But it turns out that what a lot of people believe about the aging process is wrong. Do you fall for any of these common myths about aging in the 21st century?

     How long we live depends on our genes. We cannot pick our parents, so we are stuck with the genes we were born with. But in reality, how those genes are expressed depends a lot on how we live our lives  Our thoughts, emotions, lifestyles, and how we cope with stress, all go a long way in determining whether certain genes are turned on or off.

     This means we have the power to nurture the good genes and prune back the bad ones. For example, someone may be genetically disposed toward Alzheimer's disease, but whether they actually get Alzheimer's depends largely on their lifestyle, including sleep, diet, stress levels. My brother-in-law, whose father died of heart disease at age 49, never smoked or drank, and he just celebrated his 74th birthday. My ex-wife's older brother, a former marathoner, is the first person in his family to reach age 80.

     Our bodies will get frail and fall apart. Everyone who has been on earth the same amount of time has the same chronological age, but they don't all have the same biological age. Our biological age is based on how well our bodies function, including blood pressure and weight, bone density and cholesterol levels.

     A healthy 60 year old who takes care of herself may be biologically no older than a 40 year old who does not. Anyone can lower their biological age with exercise and good nutrition. One simple example: Harvard Magazine reported that subjects who walked an average of just ten minutes a day lived almost two years longer than those who didn't exercise at all.

     Our sex lives will deteriorate. Our energy levels, of all kinds, depend more on lifestyle and attitude than they do on chronological age. Meditation, restful sleep and exercise are effective ways to pump up energy levels. While it's true that testosterone, the hormone associated with male sex drive, diminishes with age (f.y.i., testosterone levels are higher in the morning, lower at night), the reality is, for men as well as women, sex drive is mainly generated in the head.

     More problematic than aging, for both men and women, are factors such as stress, fatigue, medical conditions and tensions within a relationship. So as long as we can think sexually and communicate our needs and desires, we can remain sexually active – which may not always involve intercourse but can include plenty of other intimate activities.

     We're not as smart as we used to be. B doesn't like me to brag about this, but she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate at her college. Now one of her go-to phrases is: "I used to be smart." But I keep reminding her of a study from the University of California and Columbia University. Researchers tested a group of 20-somethings against people in their 60s and 70s, in various subjects, and found that despite a general loss of mental acuity, the older group did better than their younger test-takers in almost every category.

     How is that? The younger people were better able to manipulate information and process it quickly. But the older subjects benefited from their knowledge acquired through culture, education and a lifetime of experience. They had more focus, a better perspective and more patience. And for most practical applications – whether buying a house, driving a car, or playing cards – the wisdom that comes with age trumps the quick-mindedness of youth.

     We will get cranky and be unhappy. Not true. Here's what the scientists found out. Studies have consistently shown that happiness declines with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood – even for people who are successful, as many high achievers never seem to fully appreciate their success. People's levels of life satisfaction typically bottom out in their 40s. But then they begin to increase as they age through their 60s. The pattern has become known as the happiness U-curve.

     So take heart in the 2011 study from Stanford University that concluded, "The peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.”


Jim Serrett said...

Encouraging, thanks.

Olga Hebert said...

I was happy to read this so that I realize my own attitude is not just denial.

As for sex, my 93 year old aunt in assisted living introduced me to her new beau, also 93. And the staff had to but a reminder sign on her door that it was best to knock and wait before entering her apartment because they were always getting up to something.

DJan said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post, which will go far to dispel some of these aging myths. :-)

Red said...

Good research. Such simple ideas. It's just common sense.

Friko said...

So long as you don’t say that those who fall ill, get Alzheimers, die young, have only themselves to blame!
Good genes, a healthy and active lifestyle and a happy disposition make a difference, no doubt, but there is an awful lot of luck involved too.

Tom Sightings said...

Friko, you are absolutely right.

Roberta Warshaw said...

I know that it is important to try and stay healthy via diet etc. But I had a very good friend who died of breast cancer at 42. Both she and her husband lived a healthy lifestyle. He died 5 years later from a broken heart. They had been together since junior high school and he was lost without her. Recently one of their daughters died at the age of 36 from cervical cancer. So genes, I fear do play quite a big role. But we still must try and stay healthy by eating well and exercising.

I just started Tai Chi at age 68. And I still swim. Fingers crossed that I can stay whole for a while longer.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am happier at 72 than at 22. I have a house, a husband, and my kids and grandkids are doing very well.

Janette said...

Lots to think about. Thanks!

David @ iretiredyoung said...

I think it's true that what you get out of something is largely dependent on what you put into it, and that seems to apply to many of the things in your post.

The bit that I worry about is linked to my relatively recent turn to marathon running. I run in kilometers, of there are 42km in a marathon. What helps me is to count up to 21km during the first half and down from 21km for the second half. But I'm not finding this tactic so comforting for aging though, counting down doesn't seem very optimistic!

Wisewebwoman said...

Luck of the draw most of the time. And at my age I have many intimates who died in prime physical and mental shape. That rogue Cancer. Mainly. Tho a few from aneurysms. One of instant leukemia.

You've triggered much thinking Tom, thank you for that.

Blog post to follow.


Anonymous said...

Tom, your comments are a great reminder that we all need to make the most of our lives for as long as we have them. That approach is reflected in the lives of those we love.

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