There are certainly a lot of authorities out there telling us how to age well. The October 2007 issue of Prevention features a section called "The Art of Aging." Somehow, I thought aging was an unavoidable life process rather than an art, but I have to admit that there are a few things we can do to make life better.
The article contains sections on health, diet, and fitness, but the section that interested me most was "The Happiness Factor: How to Think." "Being optimistic in middle age increases life span by at least 7.5 years." David Snowdon, University of Kentucky Professor of Neurology, says that of course optimists get stressed, but "they automatically turn the response off much more quickly and return to a positive mental and physical state."
I'm past middle age, but I find that the "four habits that longevity experts say are at the heart of a sunny disposition" make sense for everyone.
1. Keep in touch. "People who socialize at least once a week are more likely to live longer, keep their brains sharp, and prevent heart attacks." According to Teresa Seeman, PhD, professsor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA, "Just talking on the phone to a friend has the immediate effect of lowering your blood pressure and cortisol levels." I admit to being somewhat anti-social, but I have found that my occasional conversations with old friends make me feel good.
2. Express Gratutude. "People who write about all the things they are thankful for are optimistic about the upcoming week and more satisfied overall with their lives." Of course I have long believed in the therapeutic benefits of writing.
3. Be randomly kind. Performing at least five acts of kindness in any given day, such as giving up a seat on a bus or buying a cup of coffee for a friend, "boosts your sense of well-being and happiness." Well, I'm one of those who needs to have a seat given up for me, but I always thank the cheerful giver sincerely. I hope he or she feels better. And yes, I did give up my seat to those older and less agile when I was younger.
4. Reappraise your life. "Set aside a little time each week to write about or record . . . an important event in your past. Reflecting on the experience can reshape your perception of it, as well as your expectations for the future," says Robert N. Butler MD, of the International Longevity Center-USA. "When creating [a] 'life review,' you get to list all your accompishments--an instant self-esteen booster. . . . If you can come to terms with past events, you'll be better able to handle tough times down the road."
If you are a pessimist who loves to complain or criticize, or if you feel paralyzed by gloom, you may be cutting years off your life and aging painfully. Obviously positive thinking has its benefits for us all. Writing can be an important step in this journey toward happiness.
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
See http://www.prevention.com for more tips on healthy aging.