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Doing This May Add 7 Years To Your Life, Says A Healthy Aging Expert

Olivia Giacomo
mbg Social Media Associate By Olivia Giacomo
mbg Social Media Associate
Olivia Giacomo is mbg's Social Media Associate. A recent graduate from Georgetown University, she has previously written for LLM Law Review.
Cheerful mature lady with gray hair smiling and looking away while leaning on window and enjoying sunny day at home

Cheerful mature lady with gray hair smiling and looking away while leaning on window and enjoying sunny day at home

Image by BONNIN STUDIO / Stocksy

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Here at mbg, we're no strangers to the mind-body connection or the concept that what and how we think can have a direct impact on what we experience physically. That being said, it only makes sense that our beliefs about aging might actually affect how we, well, age. 

To find out more about this potential link, we spoke with healthy aging expert Becca Levy, Ph.D., on the mindbodygreen podcast. Below, she clarifies just how significantly your thoughts can affect the aging process and shares concrete ways to shift any less-than-positive habitual beliefs.

How your thoughts about aging can affect the process itself.

When she visited Japan (which has the longest average life span in the world), Levy observed cultural attitudes about aging that differed quite a bit from those in the United States—namely, that growing old is a feat to be celebrated rather than feared. This inspired her to find out if she could scientifically correlate a link between positive beliefs about aging and longevity.

After some searching, she discovered two keys: "Fortunately, I found a dataset from Oxford, Ohio, and a sociologist named Robert Atchley had asked everybody in the town who was 50 and older to talk about a number of ideas, and one of them happened to be How do you think about aging? He actually measured their age beliefs in the 1970s."

The second source she found allowed her to quantify the effects of those beliefs–and the results were staggering: "I came across a dataset called the National Death Index, which keeps track of when everybody dies in the country. When I found out about that, I was able to match the beliefs that were expressed in this town of Oxford, Ohio, to how long they lived. We found that those who had taken in more positive age beliefs had a median survival that was 7.5 years longer than those who started this study and had taken more negative age beliefs." Translation? A positive view of aging may actually help you live longer.

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In case you need more convincing, Levy also interviewed supercentenarians (aka people 110 years and older) in Japan—specifically, the longest-living woman Kane Tanaka, who just died on April 19, 2022, at 119 years old. "She said she felt like she was in the best time of her life," Levy explains. And when Levy spoke to other researchers who were tracking extreme longevity in Japan, "positive beliefs about aging was a theme that kept on coming up." 

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What do positive beliefs about aging look like?

The link between positive age beliefs and longevity is quite impressive, but what does this habit look like in practice? It turns out, it may require some fact-checking. According to Levy, some of the most common negative stereotypes about aging are woefully incorrect, so reframing those may help shape your expectation of what aging looks like.

One example is the stereotype that aging inevitably leads to cognitive decline. "We know from science that's just not true," Levy explains. "[Many] types of memory and cognition seem to actually get better in later life. For example, the ability to solve conflict seems to get better in later life."

Another belief to embrace is the fact that older people contribute to society: "Research shows that actually a generativity, or the motivation to contribute to society and help other people, actually increases in later life, and selfish motivations tend to decline."

The takeaway.

The mind-body connection remains strong when it comes to aging. If you're concerned about any negative beliefs you may already have, not to fear: Levy confidently expresses that "we can shift them at any age." So in addition to diet, exercise, and longevity-supporting supplements, positive age beliefs can help your body function optimally for the long haul.

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