Here at the AgingOptions blog, we’ve just come across a pair of articles that demonstrate something most of us understand intuitively: our attitude – especially about aging and health – has a powerful and direct bearing on how we feel. These articles also provide yet more evidence that today’s aging baby boomers are refusing to age in the “old-fashioned way.” Instead, boomers insist on growing older on their own terms.
Feeling Positive About Your Health: are You Aging More Slowly than Everyone Else?
Both these articles appeared recently on the authoritative website of Kaiser Health News. In the first article, written by Bruce Horovitz, we discover – surprise! – that, while everyone around us is growing older, we don’t perceive ourselves as aging nearly as quickly. “Many of us are convinced that while everyone else is aging, that person we see in the mirror every morning is magically aging at a somehow slower pace,” Horovitz writes. “Call it what you will, but this gray-haired group of boomers and beyond – myself included – is having a hard time accepting the realities of aging. Yes, we are mortal, but we’re not quite believing it.” But, says Horovitz, this age-denial is good, not bad. “The great irony, say experts on aging, is that this flirtation with a slightly different reality from our aging peers may, in fact, be a healthy thing.”
The point of this Kaiser article, which quotes several academic studies, is that baby boomers “are redefining what aging is and what old age looks like.” One 2018 survey of 500,000 people conducted by Michigan State University showed that most people say they feel about 20 percent younger than they really are. This type of age-related self-perception seems to increase as we get older – and while it may seem like a form of denial, it’s actually very positive. Horovitz quotes the lead investigator from the Michigan State study, Professor William Chopik, who says, “People – particularly older people – usually say they feel younger than they are. People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives – and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.” In other words, a positive attitude about growing older makes it more likely that you’ll be healthier and happier as you do grow older.
Feeling Positive About Your Health in Spite of Your Actual Condition
The second article was written by frequent Kaiser contributor Judith Graham and appeared just a few days after the Bruce Horovitz piece. Graham writes about a perplexing but positive finding coming out of the CDC’s 2017 National Health Interview Survey: in spite of the fact that the majority of older adults have chronic health problems, most seniors consider their health to be good, very good or excellent. Fewer than one senior respondent in five among the 65-74 age group labeled their own health status as fair or poor. As Graham writes, “A common myth about aging is that older adults are burdened by illness and feel lousy much of the time. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Most seniors report feeling distinctly positive about their health.”
As we might expect, younger seniors – those in the 65-74 age group – felt the most positive about their health, with 82 percent giving themselves an evaluation of good or better. But even the next-oldest group, those 75 and older, continued to defy the stereotype: almost three-fourths called their health excellent, very good or good, while about 20 percent considered themselves in fair health and only 7 percent described their health as poor. “How could this be true,” Graham asks, “when the majority of older adults – about 60 percent – have two or more chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease or kidney disease, and higher rates of physical impairment than other age groups? The answer lies in how older adults think about their health.”
Feeling Positive About Your Health Means Greater Satisfaction with Life
Younger adults, Graham writes, tend to have a much higher yardstick than seniors when it comes to evaluating their health. In our younger years people “measure their health against an ideal ‘there shouldn’t be anything wrong with me’ standard. But expectations for what constitutes good health change as people move into later life.” This helps explain why even a senior with measurable health problems can think of their health as being good or excellent. “For many, good health means more than the lack of illness or disability,” says the Kaiser article. “The components of health they tend to value more are vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life, while poor physical functioning plays a less important role.”
Once again, the Kaiser article emphasizes that this form of positive self-image is not a kind of “whistling in the dark” refusal to accept the facts. “Lest you think older adults’ bias toward positivity is a sign of denial or a lack of objectivity, a large body of research shows it’s highly meaningful,” says Graham. Many studies have shown that how we see our health can be “very strongly predictive of longevity.” Older people know they’ll face health challenges, and as they adapt and learn new ways to thrive, they see themselves as active, resilient survivors determined to live well even in adversity. This attitude is a major contributor to a positive self-image. “At some point,” Graham says, “merely surviving can be interpreted as a sign of good health.” She quotes one researcher who put it like this: “People hit their 80s and 90s, look around and feel pretty good about just being alive.”
Feeling Positive About Your Health – and About Retirement
It’s good to feel positive about ourselves as we grow older, but unfortunately a positive mental attitude is not enough to protect you in retirement. What’s needed is an overarching retirement plan that is comprehensive and multi-faceted. For example, you may have confidence that your financial needs will be met over the coming ten, twenty or thirty years – but do you have adequate legal protection in place, which is much more than a simple will? Is your family fully aware of your hopes and desires as you age and will they be there for you? Have you considered your best options for medical coverage and your best housing plan, so you’re prepared for whatever the future may hold? If this seems like a lot to accomplish, we have terrific news: all these components are part of an AgingOptions LifePlan, a uniquely comprehensive, robust retirement planning strategy. Only AgingOptions offers it.
Why not make it your goal this summer to find out more by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich? Let Rajiv show you the process and answer all your questions in a lively, information-packed session – then the next steps will be up to you, with no obligation and no pressure. Visit our Live Events page for a current calendar of seminars, and then register for the date of your choice. Let’s make this the season of your life when you really begin the journey toward the retirement you’ve always dreamed of enjoying. Talk about a positive mental attitude! And meanwhile, age on!
(originally reported at www.khn.org)