How Attitude Affects Mental and Physical Health with Age

Why do some of your friends from high school still look young and vital while others seem older than their age? Could attitude affect our mental and physical health with age? Research says yes, so here are mental habits that can keep you looking and feeling young.

The attitude connection to well being

As reported in Psychology Today, Trinity College Dublin studied 4,135 volunteers, rating their physical frailty and cognitive abilities over time after using questionnaires to assess their perceptions on aging. The study gave researchers insight into how attitude toward aging affected the participants’ mental and physical abilities advancing through life. Older adults showed a strong link between having a healthy attitude and thriving.

Three significant findings

The research followed the health of the participants after the attitudinal assessments. It found that:

  • Those with negative attitudes toward aging had slower walking speed and diminished cognitive skills two years after the testing.
  • This included taking into account medications and health events in the intervening time.
  • Negative attitudes were associated with cascading health problems, or health conditions that interacted with and exacerbated one another.

An abundance of supporting research

The Trinity study was just the latest to confirm such findings. The National Institutes of Health has shown from a twenty-three year study that older adults with a positive attitude lived seven and a half years longer on average than those with a negative outlook. Another study by the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging found significant brain deterioration usually associated with Alzheimer’s Disease in patients who had previously tested with a negative outlook.

Thriving with a positive outlook

Certainly health crises can strike even people with a positive outlook. But evidence from numerous studies shows that a healthy attitude improves overall health and, when crisis does strike, improves recovery prospects. With this in mind, here are positive steps you can take right now.

  • Stop thinking of yourself as old. Stop anticipating decline of your abilities. Sixty is the new forty and seventy is the new fifty. See the glass of your life as half full, not half empty.
  • Everyday stop and think of the things for which you are thankful. A grateful heart is a happier heart.
  • Discipline your thinking by cultivating the habit of “changing the subject” when negative self talk arises. This is hard to do if you have a lifelong habit of negative thinking, but learning to consistently shut down negative thoughts can eventually take hold.
  • Expect good things from life.
  • Even when things get tough, keep your chin up. You don’t strive to be happy one day in the future. Be happy now. Happiness is chosen everyday, regardless of circumstances.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and ignore the cynicism of the naysayers you cannot avoid in life. Seek out the company of positive people. For family members and co-workers whom you see daily and who are negative, brush off their negativity.
  • Don’t be combative. Choose to get along with people. Let go of the little, petty things others say and do that you disagree with. Don’t swing at every pitch. Don’t let yourself be baited into arguments. Develop personal, inner security that refines your response to people with whom you don’t see eye to eye.
  • Take up new hobbies and interests. Engaging your time and mind by learning and achieving creative goals will give you a forward thinking expectation of good things to come.
  • Become more physically fit. Take brisk walks, ride a bicycle, do body weight calisthenics. Take a dance class. If you feel better physically, it will do wonders for your attitude.
  • Improve your diet. Cut out processed food in favor of fresh produce and lean proteins. Cut as much sugar from your diet a possible. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.
  • Move like a younger person. Watch your posture and stand straighter. Walk a little faster. When you rise from sitting, train yourself not to grunt or utter an “Oomph” from the effort. Act younger and you will feel younger.
  • Set goals for things you’d like to do, places you’d like to go, people you’d like to visit. Plan to do these kinds of things on a regular basis so they don’t just remain as dreams. Do them.
  • Keep learning new things. Take continuing ed classes at the community college. Learn a musical instrument or a foreign language. Keep your brain humming.
  • Serve others. Volunteer to help people in poverty, in crisis, who need help. Selflessly helping others gets our minds off of ourselves and onto others.