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Can You Think Yourself Young?

Published: Dec 11, 2014

Can You Think Yourself Young?

Well technically, no. However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows how you perceive aging, and your perception of how old you feel, can affect your general overall health and wellbeing and how old you seem to yourself and others.

Many people may scoff at the idea that you can change your physiology by thinking differently about yourself, but a famous unconventional experiment conducted by Harvard researcher, Ellen Langer, in 1981 has gained prominence over the last several years. In this experiment, Langer invited two groups of men in their 70s on a “reminiscing retreat,” without telling them that they were part of a study. All of these men had physical difficulties or memory issues that caused them to rely on others for help.

One group of men spent the week reminiscing about life in 1959 while surrounded by present-day familiarities. The other group of men was actually “dropped” into the year 1959, so to speak. This group was immersed in mementos from that era, from newspaper articles to radios and black-and-white televisions that played shows from the time, and told to pretend they were back in 1959. This latter group of men engaged in debates about world events of 1959 as if they were occurring in the present day. Of additional interest is that the men were not given any assistance at the retreat at any time. There were no handrails or ramps to help with walking, and they were not given any assistance bringing their luggage to their rooms. They needed to find a way to transport their belongings and get around the retreat grounds on their own.

By the end of the retreat period, both groups of men showed significant, positive changes in every aspect, but the second group that was immersed in 1959 showed the greatest improvement, to the extent that this group of once-frail men were playing touch football at the end of the retreat. Further, these positive cognitive and physiological changes were confirmed by laboratory tests that showed improvement in the men’s memory and other cognitive abilities, flexibility, gait, arthritis, speed of movement, and dexterity. What was more surprising was that the men also had lower blood pressure, better hearing, and better eyesight. It appeared as though by thinking they were younger, these men had physically become “younger.”

As doctors and scientist continue to study the connections between the mind and body, it is becoming more evident that aging is not a fixed process. More evidence is mounting that attitudes affect physical, cognitive, and psychological wellbeing-that humans can “think themselves younger.” By changing attitudes about the aging process and self-perceptions about their own physical and cognitive wellbeing, average people have a greater power than they may realize over how well they age.

References

Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (October 12, 2011). How old do you feel inside? Chicago Tribune.  Retrieved
     from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-10-12/lifestyle/sc-health-
    1012-senior-health-emotional-age-20111012_1_becca-levy-healthy-people-study.

Feinberg, C. (2010). The mindfulness chronicles: On “the psychology of possibility.” Harvard
     
Magazine. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/09/the-mindfulness-chronicles.

Mock, S.E. and Eibach, R.P. (2011). Aging attitudes moderate the effect of subjective age on
     psychological well-being: Evidence from a 10-year longitudinal study. Psychology and
     Aging
, 26(4), 979–986. Retrieved from http://www.midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/1195.pdf.

Williams, A. (February 2010). Can the power of thought stop you ageing? BBC News Magazine.
     Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8498233.stm.  

 

 

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