Act your age

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Act your age.

When I've previously written about making the most of retirement, I've received feedback from retirees telling me I've missed the point.

The common message is while we need to consider retirement savings, our mental and physical state and our relationships are far more important if we are to achieve happiness in retirement.

I was interested to read a column about our tendency to become slaves to our chronological age, forcing us to behave "age-appropriately". It suggested we should instead treat our chronological age as a number, and act as we feel, not as we should.

The author said our perceptions of what ageing means, which are often reinforced by culture and society, have a lot to do with how we actually age.

"If I consider myself an 80-year-old and society expects certain behaviour from 80-year-olds; that's how I'll behave".

The column referenced a 1979 study by Harvard University professor Ellen Langer which concluded that many of the things we consider as inevitable consequences of ageing (eg. diminished energy and memory) might be significantly influenced by our perceptions and mindset.

Langer's experiment involved men in their 70's who were divided into two groups: a control group who went about their customary activities, and another who entered a sort of time-warp.

The latter group was placed in a new environment which transported them back to 1959. Furniture, music, clothes, black-and-white TV and books were staged to make the men feel as if they were living in 1959.

When Langer studied the group after a week of 'mindful immersion in the past', she found that their memory, vision, hearing and even physical strength had improved.

The 'reminiscent' group outperformed their real-world counterparts and seemed younger, and indeed happier.

Because their minds were taken back to a time when they were younger, their bodies too went back to that earlier time, bringing about some of the improved physiological changes.

A more recent University College of London study found that people who feel younger than their actual age live longer than those who feel older than they really are.

The researchers studied respondents aged 52 and older who were asked how old they felt. They found the people who felt older than their actual age were 41 per cent more likely to have died than those who felt younger.

The idea of "thinking yourself young" came through loudly in the research with the various experiments suggesting that wherever we put the mind, we necessarily put the body.

The comments in response to the column were even more telling.

A 60-year-old said "I definitely feel and am told I look much younger. Do I stay active because I feel younger, or do I feel younger because my body has not aged as quickly as most? I don't know, but I know that mindset matters".

Another said "I am 86 and have the usual array of physical shortcomings. I look a lot younger than my age and being told so helps me to feel younger. I think a major factor in my "youth" is my curiosity. I think I am fortunate to feel as young as I do, in spite of all the trials of the body."

Ageing is an inexorable process, and there comes a time when no amount of thinking positive thoughts can halt ageing.

But it we're active and engaged, if we immerse ourselves in "youthful" and energetic surroundings, we might just look and feel younger, and age in an altogether better way.


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