Is Ageing Possibly Mind Over Matter?
What if ageing is all in the mind? Or better still, remaining fit and able at 90 (or 80 or 70) is something we can achieve, if we just believe? Here are just two of many in the scientific community who are challenging the theories of ageing and looking at the impact our mind has on healthier, happier ageing.
Dr Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist has been dubbed the “mother of mindfulness” and is leading the charge in the theory that we are all capable of so much more. She believe that our bodies experience the stereotypes of ageing because we don’t challenge our minds to think otherwise. Too many of us, she suggests, are moving mindlessly through our lives without purpose or possibility.
Langer’s studies have shown that when we challenge, rather than accept, these stereotypes we open ourselves to the possibility of what could be. On the other hand, accepting that there are “age-appropriate” behaviours makes it far more likely that we will succumb, without thought, to the process of ageing. In other words, the body will go where the mind leads it.
Just think about this scenario. You turn 65. You’re not really ready to retire from work, but that is what is expected of you. You are given a warm goodbye and sent off home to ‘take it easy’. As you head into your 70’s you worry that you shouldn’t push yourself as much. People your age should be more careful. You’d like to learn to play the piano but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – it’s too late in life to take up new hobbies. You’re not out and about as much and you lose touch with friends and colleagues. You sleep more, exercise less, and don’t have as much opportunity to challenge your mind. Hey, that’s old age.
But with everything we know about the importance of staying active, staying connected and eating why would we slow down? If we mindlessly fall into the habits of people “our age” our body as no choice but to stop working as it once did.
Social Science writer Bruce Grierson is also fascinated with the idea that age is, quite simply, “just a state of mind”.
Intrigued by Olga Kotelko who, at 91, was still participating actively in track and field athletics, Griersen set out to see how Olga was accomplishing all that she was “at her age”. After all, she was living not just a long life but a highly active and remarkable one. What he found was that Kotelko, like her fellow athletes in the masters games she competed, and held twenty three world records in, simply did not believe she needed to slow down. On the contrary she was constantly challenging herself, setting new goals. In her own words, she explained to Grierson that she was not interested in living a long life but rather living the life she had. Olga focused on doing what she loved and not accepting the notion that she was “too old” for such activities.
It is certainly evident in the older people we are inspired by, that those who live into their 90’s and beyond usually have one thing in common. They don’t believe they need to “slow down”, in fact they are often still working or challenging themselves in new and interesting ways.
If we buy into the stereotypes, the ‘age-appropriate’ behaviours of the way we dress, the way we move, the activities we undertake, we ignore the possibilities of what we could be. As we grow older it’s absolutely crucial to maintain a sense of purpose and remain mindful. Notice new things, be engaged, stay connected and challenge your own thinking.
Don’t define yourself by your age. Consider the possibilities and live the life you want. Don’t stop dreaming big.