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A positive outlook is more likely to lead to healthy outcomes in old age

Given the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of many people over the past year, having a positive view of life has never been more important.

A study carried out by a team from Oregon State University (OSU) found that the brain is a powerful organ which, if harnessed correctly, could help improve long-term health.

Study co-author Shelbie Turner, a doctoral student in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said: “How we think about who we’re going to be in old age is very predictive of exactly how we will be.”

Research into the power of the mind

This is not the first research to have been carried out on the power of the mind and how it might affect our physical selves. Previous ageing studies have found that the way people think about themselves at the age of 50, largely predicts how they will end up when they reach theirs 80s.

Karen Hooker, co-author of the study and the Jo Anne Leonard Petersen Endowed Chair in Gerontology and Family Studies at OSU, added: “Previous research has shown that people who have positive views of aging at 50 live 7.5 years longer, on average, than people who don’t.”

The impact of self-perception on people’s health

The research team working on this study wanted to further investigate how important self-perceptions are to people and their health. They looked at how a person’s perceived ability of themselves and the need to become the person they want to be in the future influenced each individual. They also looked at optimism as a general personality trait.

They found that high optimism was associated with more positive self-perception of aging. Ageist stereotypes also impacted how people saw themselves.

Ms Hooker said: “Kids as young as 4 years old already have negative stereotypes about old people. Then, of course, if you’re lucky enough to live to old age, they eventually apply to you.

“People need to realize that some of the negative health consequences in later life might not be biologically driven. The mind and the body are all interwoven.

“If you believe these bad things are going to happen, over time that can erode people’s willingness or maybe even eventually their ability to engage in those health behaviours that are going to keep them as healthy as they can be.”

Ms Turner added: “The more you’re around older people, the more you realise that it’s not all bad. Older people can do some things better than young people do. Increasing opportunities for intergenerational relationships is one way we can make people more optimistic about aging.”

Positivity and negativity

Few would argue that if a life is worth living then it will have both positivity and negativity in it. It all depends on how you look at it.

The meaning of the glass is half full comes to mind. In English the glass is half full used to refer to an attitude of always thinking about the good things in a situation rather than the bad ones.

Summary 

As we come to the end of another lockdown, now is the time to be more positive about the future. The findings of the Oregon State University (OSU) study suggest that we will live longer if we adopt a positive attitude to old age in our fifties. The positive approach also provides benefits to healthy outcomes.

The power of the mind should not be underestimated. People need to realise that health issues in later life may not be down solely to biological causes, but closely interwoven with psychological attitude adopted by the person.

Life however is about positive and negative experiences that we all have to address at some time in our lives. May be for all our benefits we should adopt the old adage of a glass that is half full. Enjoy more healthy lives and be more sociable company to others.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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