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A positive outlook on getting old could help with aging, B.C. study says

Study author says negative attitudes toward aging could become a self-fulfilling prophecy
Study participants with better attitudes toward aging showed a 43 per cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality. (Metro Creative Graphics photo)

It turns out the old adage “you’re only as old as you feel” has some truth behind it.

Newly released findings from a UBC study show that people with better attitudes toward aging are more likely to have positive health outcomes as they get older.

Researchers tracked changes in how participants felt about aging in three four-year intervals and looked for measurable changes in health and well-being after each interval. More than 13,000 adults aged 50 and over participated in the study from 2008 to 2018.

At the first interval, the researchers recorded initial measures of health and wellbeing. They also captured aging satisfaction through participants’ responses to statements like “things keep getting worse as I get older”, “I am as happy now as I was when I was younger” and “The older I get, the more useless I feel”.

At the second interval, they assessed aging satisfaction again.

Then for the third interval, researchers measured how health and wellbeing outcomes had changed four years after the second measurement of aging satisfaction.

Of the 35 outcomes they measured, 27 had improved in association with improved aging satisfaction four years earlier.

Some of those outcomes included all-cause mortality, number of chronic conditions, diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, physical functioning limitations, cognitive impairment, chronic pain and self-rated health.

Participants with the highest aging satisfaction showed a 43 per cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality.

At the same time, decreased satisfaction with aging from the first to second intervals was linked to worsening health and wellbeing outcomes.

“Prior research has looked at how psychological risk factors like depression and stress might adversely influence health and wellbeing outcomes, but we are interested in factors that might positively influence health and wellbeing outcomes,” said Julia Nakamura, a graduate student in UBC’s department of psychology and first author of the study.

“With further research, our findings suggest that interventions to increase aging satisfaction might improve the health and wellbeing of our rapidly growing older adult population.”

Nakamura added that interventions could come at both the individual and societal levels. She suggests efforts to combat ageism and stereotypes would be a good first step to improve the way people view aging.

“If a person thinks aging is destined to be a negative experience, that might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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