It’s a commonly held belief that as we age, our minds and bodies decline—and life inevitably becomes less satisfying and enjoyable.
Many also believe that as we get older, we become less productive at work.
It seems that these beliefs are wrong! KPLR’s ‘Doctor Is In’, Dr. Sonny Saggar, is here to explain why it’s not so bad getting old...
I hear many people, typically around my age (47) or older, saying things like: "I'm too old to make a difference, take a leap, change the game..."
Sometimes, I even hear this from people as young as 30, and it’s just pathetic. Yes, I know this makes me sound old, but seriously, young people these days…...
People believe that the odds are stacked against them, so there’s no need to even imagine the failure that effort will bring. They just decide it’s better to move along and lower their expectations.
What I believe, and what the research shows is that we can, and we must, contribute to society as we get older.
Contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of loneliness, depression and decline, a growing body of scientific research shows that, in many ways, life gets better as we get older.
As we get older, friendships, creativity and satisfaction with life can actually flourish.
A growing body of evidence indicates that our moods and overall sense of well-being improve with age. Friendships tend to grow more intimate, too, as older adults prioritize what matters most to them.
Knowledge and certain types of intelligence continue to develop in ways that can even offset age-related decline in the brain’s ability to process new information and reason abstractly.
Expertise deepens, which can enhance productivity and creativity. Some go so far as to say that wisdom—defined, in part, as the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems simultaneously from multiple perspectives—flourishes.
Yes of course, growing older has its share of challenges. Some people don’t age as well as others. And especially at advanced ages, chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension and dementia become increasingly common and can take a toll on mental, as well as physical, health.
But that ‘old person’ stereotype of being “depressed, cranky, irritable and obsessed with their next bowel movement” represents less than 10% of the older population.
Here are some myths about aging:
Myth No. 1: Depression Is More Common in Old AgeResearch indicates that emotional well-being improves until the 70s, when it levels off.
Even centenarians “report overall high levels of well-being,” according to a 2014 study.
As the participants aged, their moods—measured by the ratio of positive to negative emotions—steadily improved.
Contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time of life, the peak of positive emotional life may not occur until well into the sixties.
Older adults have been observed to focus on the positive rather than the negative emotions, memories and stimuli. In contrast to younger adults, older adults presented with an array of happy, sad and angry faces directed their gazes more often toward the happy ones.
Why the focus on the positive? As people age, they tend to prioritize emotional meaning and satisfaction, giving them an incentive to see the good more than the bad. They notice the positive more.
National data back up the findings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.5% of adults age 50 and over said they experienced a major depressive episode in 2012. For those 26 to 49, the rate was 7.6%, and for ages 18 to 25 it was 8.9%.
While rates of depression in nursing homes tend to be high, when we look at ALL older adults, they tend to be happier, less anxious, less angry and tend to adapt well to their circumstances.
Myth No. 2: Cognitive Decline Is InevitableRecent discoveries also indicate that—except in the case of dementia—older adults perform better in the real world than they do on cognitive tests.
Because knowledge and experience increase with age, older adults who are tested in familiar situations show few of the deficits that crop up in laboratory tests.
Younger adults may also have advantages in laboratory tests that have nothing to do with their cognitive skills. For example, because professors often recruit students for their experiments, some younger participants may be more comfortable in a lab than older participants.
Older adults who believe negative stereotypes about aging can also unwittingly undermine their own performance on memory tests.
The good news: Recent experiments show that certain activities appear to enhance cognitive function and perhaps slow age-related cognitive declines. In two studies published earlier this year, the memories of 239 adults ages 60 to 90 were tested, about one-half of whom spent about 16 hours a week over three months learning new skills, including how to quilt, use an iPad and taking digital photographs.
Compared with peers who performed word puzzles or engaged in social activities and other tasks that required no new skills, those learning new skills showed greater improvements in memory, with some also showing improvement in processing speed.
So older adults who learn challenging new skills tap more diffuse brain circuits and pathways to compensate for age-related deficits.
Novelty combined with mental challenge is very important, so get out of your comfort zone and learn new stuff. Learn something new every month if you can.
Some scientists also believe older adults can make wiser decisions.
Myth No. 3: Older Workers Are Less Productive
Workers 55 or older make up 22% of the U.S. labor force, up from 12% in 1992. Thanks in part to stereotypes that portray older workers as less adaptable than their younger colleagues, they are widely assumed to be less productive.
In fact, the vast majority of academic studies shows virtually no relationship between age and job performance.
In jobs that require experience, some studies show that older adults have a performance edge.
Myth No. 4: Loneliness Is More LikelyAs people age, their social circles contract. But that doesn’t mean older adults are lonely.
In fact, several academic studies indicate that friendships tend to improve with age.
Older adults typically report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict with children and siblings and closer ties with members of their social networks than younger adults.
Older adults have “a higher rate of close ties than younger people” and fewer “problematic relationships that cause them distress.”
The findings: Until about age 50, most people add to their social networks. After that, they eliminate people they feel less close to and maximize interactions with “close partners who are more emotionally satisfying”.
Over time, the participants also assigned their networks more positive ratings. “Their loved ones seem to mean more than ever, and that is protective against loneliness”
While this doesn’t mean loneliness isn’t a problem for some older people, research indicates that, on average, older adults are less lonely than young people!
Myth No. 5: Creativity Declines With Age
Creativity has long been seen as the province of the young, but academic studies that date as far back as the 19th century pinpoint midlife as the time when artists and scholars are most prolific.
Creativity tends to peak earlier in fields such as pure mathematics and theoretical physics, where breakthroughs typically hinge on problem-solving skills that are sharpest in one’s 20s.
In fields that require accumulated knowledge, creative peaks typically occur later. Historians and philosophers, for example, “may reach their peak output when they are in their 60s”.
Creative genius clusters into two categories: conceptual artists, who tend to do their best work in their 20s and 30s, and experimental artists, who often need a few more decades to reach full potential.
Conceptual artists work from imagination, an area where the young have an advantage because they tend to be more open to radical new ideas.
Experimental artists improve with experience. They take years to perfect their style and knowledge of their subjects.
Myth No. 6: More Exercise Is BetterWhen it comes to improving health and longevity, regular exercise is key, but a growing number of studies show that more exercise may not always be better.
There is an optimum amount of exercise you should do in a week. Everything, including exercise, should be in moderation.
In one study, those who jog from one to 2.4 hours weekly at 5 to 7 mph and took at least two days off from vigorous exercise per week, had the greatest increase in life expectancy.
Fairly modest doses of running provided benefits as great as a lot of running.
Long-term strenuous endurance exercise may cause “overuse injury” to the heart.
Stick to a moderate cardiovascular workout of between 10 and 30 miles a week or 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, and take at least two days off each week. You don’t need to run a marathon, except to put it on your bucket list. It’s got no proven health benefit, and it might even be bad for the majority of people. That may be one reason why half-marathons are becoming a lot more popular than full ones.
Dr. Saggar, an emergency and urgent care physician, is also an internist. You can reach him via his website at STLHealthWorks.com.
You can also connect with Dr. Saggar, the Director at STLPrimaryCare.com, and ask him any questions you like
via STLPrimaryCare.COM, or
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