Experts tell us that our attitude about life—and about our own aging—makes a big difference in our health and well-being. Several studies have shown that seniors who are basically optimistic are more resilient when it comes to warding off the common ailments of old age, such as heart disease, dementia and even the flu. Numerous studies have linked a positive feeling about aging with a longer, healthier life.
While the exact mechanism hasn’t been determined, gerontologists tell us that seniors with a more positive attitude are more likely to exercise, eat well, and socialize—all of which lower stress and inflammation.
But shifting our attitude can be difficult. We need to, in a sense “reprogram” our thought processes, focusing more on the good things in our life, and developing coping strategies for the not-so-good. Here are a few tips:
See challenges as an opportunity. We don’t always have control over the things that happen to us, but we do control our response to them. If we learn to recognize challenges as a way to learn and to grow, we are better able to deal with them and have a more positive response to them.
Practice gratitude. A study from the University of California, San Diego found that in a sense, a grateful heart is a healthier heart! Professor Paul J. Mills, Ph.D., reported that gratitude is associated with ”better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health.” One way to incorporate gratitude into your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, just jot down a few things for which you are grateful.
Watch what you say. Words are powerful and can shape the way you feel about things. Try replacing the phrase “have to” with the phrase “get to.” Instead of saying (and thinking) “I have to go to work” or “I have to go to the dentist,” reframe your thoughts by saying “I get to go to work” (many people are unemployed and hurting) and “I get to go to the dentist” (many people lack access to dental care). This simple shift in consciousness can help you realize how much you have to be thankful for.
Become conscious of your thoughts. Just as your words are powerful, so are your thoughts. If you find yourself thinking “Life is hard,” notice what you’re thinking and reframe it. You may choose to shift your thoughts to “Life is hard and I continue to experience joy every day” or “Life is a blast, and the challenges I face simply make me stronger.” If you change your thoughts, you can form new thought patterns which will change your experience of life.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing depression or other low mood, talk to your doctor.