Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

You really ARE as young as you feel !

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Did you know that how you perceive your age plays a significant role in staying healthy in your later years? These studies shed some light on this fascinating mind-body connection.

This research looks at how a person’s perception of aging influences his/her physical and mental health. Results indicate that if you view the aging process in positive ways, functional abilities such as gait and daily living skills improve.  People who viewed aging in positive terms also lived 7.5 years longer on average, and recovered faster from periods of disability. In one study, positive words such as “wise” were quickly flashed on a computer screen as subjects, aged sixty and above, played video games.  Afterwards the subjects were asked to walk. They walked faster than the subjects who saw negative words like “decrepit” flashed across their screens. The latter group showed no difference in their walking and hip swing speed.

A host of studies in the Journal of Gerontology confirm that positive self perceptions of aging translate into better physical and mental health as we age. Go to the below abstracts to learn more.

How, you may ask, does one improve their perceptions of aging? Start with the message you may give yourself. Instead of thinking,” Oh my aching back, I just have to accept this as part of normal aging,” you can change that self-talk to “I need to exercise and move so I can feel better”.  You can also engage in a fun activity or spend time with uplifting people so you don’t focus on your ailment as much. Another way we sabotage ourselves is by using vocabulary associated with older age such as repeating  to ourselves that we are old, or that we expect less out of life than we did when younger. Needless to say, exercise is a magic bullet for aging well. Range of motion, strength, endurance, cardiovascular ability and balance, the five prongs of physical fitness, are all positively influenced by consistent exercise of moderate intensity.

I’m fortunate in that I have so many role models who constantly inspire me to feel hopeful about getting older. One of my clients, Martha, at 77, is an avid skier and ice skater and is as lean as any 30 year old. Another client, well into her 70’s,  can’t wait to take her next trip to the Far East. Surrounding oneself with people who are young at heart and active can keep us feeling youthful, regardless of the amount of years we’ve spent so far on this planet.

OK, so what about those days when you ache and hurt and have limited energy? Be kind to yourself, always remembering that some days are better than others.  Also keep in mind that pleasant distractions and doing things you like can take the edge off. Try to do things that make you happy like reading a good book, listening to music you like, or engaging in some activity that occupies your mind.

So start thinking and doing all those positive, life-affirming things that make you feel young- listen to your self-talk and replace any negatives with all those good adjectives, and let that seasoned, wise, engaged and energetic person come shining through!

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