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Published on July 5, 2019

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 March 25, 2020

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in Moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch Less Television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t Smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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9. Be Optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a Pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink Coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat Less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh Often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook Your Own Food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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18. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

21. Have Sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

More Health Tips

Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

Reference

[1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
[2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
[3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
[4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
[5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
[6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
[7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
[8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
[9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
[10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
[11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
[12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
[15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
[16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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