If you could take a pill, every day, that would add more than seven years to your life, would you? Of course you would! Well, there is such a pill, of sorts. We hear it all the time: Look on the bright side. When it comes to the subject of aging, what happened?
Why is it that so many older residents of the Roaring Fork Valley are insistent on not recognizing that they have aged? “Not me, I am not old.” Denial won’t make it disappear. Time won’t stop. You shall age; we shall all get older. Whether you are 35 or 65, you ARE aging. So get over it, and guess what? A positive attitude towards this natural progression of life results in a healthier, more attractive, you. Yes, there are actually mountains of research that indicate that a positive attitude will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it!
“Positive Psychology” is defined as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Maybe local town council members could use some schooling on this. Positive perceptions about growing older may actually slow down the aging process. Think about that for a moment. Instead of “not me, I am not old,” proclaim “Hey, I AM old and I am loving it.”
Of course, living in the Roaring Fork Valley gives us a leg up on the rest of the world. We have rooted ourselves in the most fertile surroundings, full of natural beauty, interesting characters, clean air and water and the ability to get out and play — every day. Walk around Crown Mountain Park or Willits Triangle Park and witness the simple joys of children, pets and parents (all of whom are aging by the way). Release your inner happiness — it’s in there somewhere.
Being a research geek, it surprised me to learn that up to 80 percent of our daily thoughts are negative. What? There is a name for this condition — “negative dominance” — and 95 percent of these thoughts remain the same, day-to-day. Hamsters on a wheel.
Testing this statistic while driving on Highway 82 to Aspen (on a bluebird day, I might add), I found that it is true. From the texting/dictating distracted drivers, following too close, hanging in the passing lane, weaving in and out, spewing diesel, flying rocks and debris, not to mention the frequency and duration of the traffic signals, not a positive thought could be mustered up for nearly an hour. My heart rate has increased just thinking about it. In a very small test case, I see what they mean.
Beyond just general negativity, a Yale study revealed that negative beliefs about aging may be linked to the changes within the brain, you know, the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles associated with Alzheimer’s. Yikes!
Positivity or “learned optimism” allows one to focus away from the negativity and reroute yourself on a mentally lighter, more fulfilling path. Easier said than done. Perhaps I should reread “The Power of Positive Thinking” or “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” as they were spot on and made millions telling us so.
Quality over quantity is a mantra we hear in aging discussions, especially as it pertains to the final act. The reality, however, is that commencing a positive attitude towards the subject of aging at a younger age can extend your life over 7.5 years. See, you can have your cake and eat it too (make mine double chocolate, please). More practically, the experts agree that we should engage in simple routines to support a positive attitude towards aging, including staying active (go for that walk), keeping socially connected (call or visit your friends and neighbors), reducing stress (meditate or practice mindfulness), engaging your brain (read, solve puzzles or do the daily crossword or Sudoku) and engaging in purposeful activities (volunteer, mentor or take up a hobby).
Since positive thinking can reduce stress, lower your risk of heart disease and improve your immunity, it’s time to reprogram your thoughts.
Celebrate aging. Surround yourself with positive people and enriching environments. Focus on where we live and why we live here. It not only feels better, it will give you more time, in years, to complete that bucket list.
Mary Kenyon has worked on the Pitkin County Aging Well Plan and related programs for the past five-plus years. She is passionate about bringing attention to issues of the older population in our Valley and is working diligently on increasing her positive attitude. Email her your positive thoughts at email@example.com