Try these tips for developing a healthier mindset about aging

Last week, we explored the relationship between attitude and longevity and noted a startling finding by Becca Levy, Yale Professor of Epidemiology who affirmed that attitude matters. Her research found those with a positive attitude towards aging live on average 7.5 years longer than those with a negative mindset.

Given its importance, one might wonder, How do we develop that positive mindset and even reverse a negative one? In her book, “Breaking the Age Code,” Levy indicates it is possible to make such a change by adopting what she calls the ABCs of Age Liberation. 

It begins with A: Awareness. Yes, it begins with us. We need to be aware of how we speak to older people, particularly those who are receiving care. You might have heard of the term “elderspeak,” which means using simplified language often with one syllable, often spoken in a sing-song manner and then speaking louder than usual. Elderspeak also includes the choice of words. Although some older adults may like to be called “dearie,” “sweetie” or “cute,” these words typically are reserved for children. At the same time, we need to pay attention to positive role models. That might be an actor, your grandmother, a teacher or an artist. Levy notes that positive models not only make us feel good, they help change our behavior. And notice the presence of age stereotypes – I’ve seen political cartoons of older leaders pushing wheelchairs. Then there are birthday cards that cross the line from being funny to being ageist. Add to that clinical trials that exclude older persons. So be aware of your own attitudes, language and what is going on around you.

Next is B: Blame. This is shifting blame for ageism from oneself to sources in our larger society. Levy tells a story in her book about a pulled muscle she experienced while running a 5K. “She immediately began lamenting that her middle-aged body was already failing her and wondered if she would ever be able to run again. Her daughter later pointed out that her failure to warm up before the race was likely the true reason for her injury.” Her first instinct was to blame herself rather than the influences of ageism. It demonstrated how deeply ingrained stereotypes can be. 

And C: Challenge negative beliefs. Levy found that older people who confront negative beliefs rather than ignoring them are less likely to develop depression and anxiety. That may mean writing a letter (or email) to an editor about a story that is ageist. It could be writing to an advertising agency because older adults are missing or misrepresented in an advertisement. It could be addressing an ageist comment made at a book-group meeting or in a conversation with a friend or relative. 

Manfred Diehl, retired professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University created a list of ways to adopt a more positive attitude toward our own aging process. And that is beginning with us. 

Stay physically active, 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control
Never stop learning and keep exercising your brain
Adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, managing weight and avoid excess or smoking.
Stay socially connected to your mate, family, friends and neighbors and include younger people.
Don’t sweat the small stuff; accept what you cannot do.
Minimize stress and use coping mechanisms to relax such as meditation, yoga or tai chi. 
Have regular check-ups and engage in healthy behaviors. 

Just by working on our own behaviors that make us feel good about ourselves will help us think more positively about our “aging selves.” 

If you are curious about whether a phrase, image or story is ageist, author and anti-ageism advocate Ashton Applewhite can address your question on her website, “Yo, Is This Ageist?” 

Here is example: A person read an advertisement for iPhones for seniors and iPhones, the senior edition. The person wrote, “It seems to perpetuate this myth that seniors are clueless about technology.” “Am I overreacting?,” the person asks.

Applewhite answers, “You’re entitled to feel insulted, because these publications do indeed reinforce the myth that technically inept olders are clutching their rotary phones. It’s ageist, it’s false, and it’s harmful.” 

So, remember the ABCs and the healthy behaviors we can implement that make thinking positively about our own aging a little easier.

Stay well everyone and know that kindness changes everything. 

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on

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