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9 Myths About the Aging Process You Can Definitely Ignore

9 Myths About the Aging Process You Can Definitely Ignore

Is life after 50 the beginning of our decline? Many people would like us to believe so. But the narrative that there’s some magical number after which our mental and physical abilities fall of a cliff is pure myth.

Unfortunately many of the negative stereotypes associated with aging are pervasive in movies, TV, and popular culture. But if you just look around, you’ll notice some of the highest performing individuals are well into their senior years. Folks like Warren Buffet, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Paul McCartney, Noam Chomsky, Robert DeNiro, are all going strong well into their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

The misconceptions about aging and older adults is pervasive, we’re here to separate fact from fiction. Here are 9 common myths about aging:

1. Old People Stop Learning

Common thought is that as we age, we stop learning. The truth couldn’t be further from the myth.

New research has shown that while our processing speed may slow as we age, other mental functions like language, vocabulary and speech actually improve as we get older! Moreover, while some brain functions may decline, it doesn’t just disappear and we can do a lot to improve the brain’s performance as we age.

Several studies have revealed exceptional mental feats of older adults. One case study showed someone in his 70’s memorizing all 10,565 lines in Milton’s Paradise lost. Another showed a woman who learned how to read in her 90’s.[1]

If you want to keep your brain young as you age, exercise seems to be essential as it helps promote the elasticity of the brain through the growth of new brain cells and synapse connections.[2] You can also join the growing trend of seniors going back to school and taking classes of interest.

2. Everyone Who Gets Old, Gets Dementia

There’s been a lot of talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. And while it’s true that one person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, the good news is it’s not even close to inevitable.[3]

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In fact, only 6-8% of adults over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s. So the vast majority of older adults do not get Alzheimer’s or even symptoms of dementia.

Moreover, we now know that there are several things you yourself can do to delay and reduce, and even avoid the symptoms of dementia. For example exercising, staying mentally fit and eating properly.

So the next time you forget your keys or misplace your wallet, relax. Odds are you were distracted and it has nothing to do with dementia.

3. Age Brings Weakness

Older folks are often seen as frail, weak and fragile. While it’s certainly true that our body mass can get smaller and our bones weaker as we age, it has more to do with inactivity than aging itself.

Marcas Bamman, the director of the University of Alabama’s Center for Exercise Medicine, has said that their research has repeatedly shown that women in their 60’s and 70’s develop muscles that are as large and strong as people in their 40’s, under a supervised weight training program.

While sedentary adults can lose up to 30% of their muscle fibre as they age into their 80’s, the balance of your muscle fibre can more than make up for the loss if you grow them through exercise. Again, aging itself is not the largest factor contributing to elderly frailty, it’s lack of exercise.

The lesson? Keep active throughout your life to maintain your strength. Walking is great, but so are more vigorous activities like swimming, yoga, tai chi, dancing, weight training, etc… Bottom line: Use it or lose it.

4. Older Adults Can’t Adapt to New Technologies

Yes some older people may have asked you for help with BookFace, SnapTime or InstaChat. They may have also asked us to help them download their pictures from the Google, talk to that girl Alexa or find the “blue” tooth in their car.

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But before you roll your eyes, think of this. They created, learned, used and migrated from the record, to the 8 track, to the tape to the CD to the MP3 to streaming. From the cinema, to the drive-in, to VHS, Betamax, DVD and streaming. From newsprint to the iPad. And from the dial phone to a smart phone.

Every habit is hard to break. But give the Baby Boomer generation credit for moving on from old habits and embracing the promise of new technologies in all facets of their life to a larger extent than any other generation in history.

5. You Lose Creativity as You Get Older

There’s a lot of misconception around creativity and age. Psychologist Dean Simonton opined that “most conspicuous is the notion that creativity is the prerogative of youth, that aging is synonymous with a decrement in the capacity for generating and accepting innovations.”

But recent research has put that prejudice to bed. Aging alone doesn’t reduce your creativity. In fact, there are plenty of examples of people who created new songs, poems, art, inventions and discoveries well into their adult life.

Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, J.R.R. Tolkein all created some of their most important works after the age of 55.

Even the average age of scientific breakthroughs is increasing, as Bruce Weinberg Professor at Ohio University observed:

“The age at which scientists make important contributions is getting older over time… Today, the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48.”

6. You Lose Your Sex Drive as You Age

Nobody likes to picture their parents getting it on, let alone their grandparents. But get this, it’s happening more than EVER!

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One study actually showed that sexual frequency declined for every American age group except seniors over the age of 70! [4] Another study revealed that 30% of adults over the age of 70 were having sex at least twice a month.[5]

Why the change in behavior? Well, all those divorcees and widowers can now find love and companionship easier than ever on dating apps, just like the rest of us. Moreover, biological limitations have been overcome with erectile dysfunction medication and lubrication.

So now you can look forward to having more sex when you’re older than you’re having now. Take that father time!

7. Aging Brings Loneliness

We’ve all seen the stereotypical picture of an elderly adult, sitting alone in their rocking chair, staring into space. The image is heartbreaking. Having lost their spouse and friends, they live alone, forgotten.

It’s actually a kind of cliché image. While it certainly happens, it’s not inevitable by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it the norm. The truth is, many seniors have more time to meet new people than they’ve ever had before.

With that new found freedom, older adults discover new pursuits such as cards, dancing, exercise, book clubs, discussion groups, church, volunteerism and classes. Some have their own group of friends, while others meet people at senior centers, the library, the local Y or in retirement communities that have more activities than a summer camp!

8. Growing Old Means Loss of Meaning and Purpose

In our work obsessed culture, where our identities are so often defined by our jobs, we often view retirees as lacking purpose. If you’re not working, you’re not being productive.

But age has nothing to do with someone’s loss of purpose. You can derive meaning and make a difference by being an involved grandparent, volunteering, involving yourself in local or national politics, or performing daily acts of kindness.

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Age doesn’t determine meaning, actions do. The actions of Winston Churchill leading his nation through WWII took place during his 70’s. Paul Newman will not only be remembered as a great actor, but also for his charities which he managed into his 80’s. At 94, Jimmy Carter continues his effort to improve the lives of people worldwide through his philanthropy and diplomacy.

Any of those activities can be considered more meaningful and purposeful than many of the jobs we hold as younger adults.

9. Old People Are Depressed

While it is true that older adults suffer from depression, just like all other age groups, the numbers are far from overwhelming. In fact, of those over the age of 60, only 7% suffer from depression. Put another way, 93% of older adults do not suffer from depression.

That said, seniors do have unique challenges (loss of spouses, inability to drive, etc.) which can lead to isolation and loneliness, and increase the risk of depression.[6] However, once again, it’s not an inevitability.

How do you avoid depression in your later years? Maintain a strong network of family and friends. Stay involved in your community. Stay healthy, active and eat well.

Aging isn’t as bad as many thought to be. It’s a process that brings about changes, but not necessarily problems. It’s all about the mindset you have. If you want to stay active as you age, maintain healthy habits and stay involved in your community!

More About Aging

Featured photo credit: Seth Hays via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Marc Felgar

Marc Felgar is an aging, health & senior care expert focused on improving the lives of mature adults.

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Last Updated on November 9, 2020

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, breaking bad habits is difficult because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower, and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

2. No Motivation

Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academic pressure, and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

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This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family, and life in general.

If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to start breaking bad habits.

A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

Overeating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of chips, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are necessary for survival. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good, and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

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You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

5. Upward Comparisons

Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

Research shows that in the age of social media, social comparisons are much easier and can ultimately harm self-esteem if scrolling becomes a bad habit[2].

6. No Alternative

This is a real and valid reason why breaking bad habits is difficult. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

Someone who has physical or psychological limitations, such as a disability or social anxiety, may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

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7. Stress

As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing an unhealthy habit.

When a person is stressed about something, it is easy for bad habits to form because the mental resources required to fight them are not available[3].

We often see a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

If you need some help reducing stress, check out the following video for some healthy ways to get started:

8. Sense of Failure

People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

Overeaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in, and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store. Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

If such people slip even once with a glass of wine, or a smoke, or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

9. The Need to Be All-New

People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

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These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit and try to create good habits from there.

10. Force of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit, and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or eating junk food when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them, as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

Final Thoughts

These are the main reasons why breaking bad habits is difficult, but the good news is that the task is not impossible. Breaking habits takes time, and you’ll need to put long-term goals in place to replace a bad habit with a good one.

There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

More on Breaking Bad Habits

Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?
[2] Psychology of Popular Media Culture: Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem.
[3] Stanford Medicine: Examining how stress affects good and bad habits

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