Breaking unfounded beliefs such as “old age comes with its pangs” needs researched validation. It is one thing to point at “healthy living” examples and entirely another to gather sufficient data, process in a scientific manner with assessment tools and then arrive upon the sum total. To her credit, Yale professor Becca Levy’s book “Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long And Well You Live” sets the record straight.
In short, the book shatters myths that deteriorating mental health is “part and parcel of the aging process.” Dr Levy’s study focusses on how positive and negative age stereotypes, assimilated from culture, can have beneficial and/or adverse effects on the health of seniors. The book’s data base spans longitudinal, experimental and cross-cultural methods.
As she puts it: “If one has lived a long, colourful, and beautiful life they are going to have a memorable, peaceful, and carefree old age.” The title is a window to peek into what it means to grow old. Our lives are the result of a variety of uncontrollable events, such as where we are born and to whom we are born, our DNA imprints, accidents that may befall us and socio-economic realities, to name a few.
To analyse further, here are four startling findings from her decades of research.
1. Memory doesn’t have to get worse as we age
2. Functional health does not deteriorate nearly as rapidly as society would lead us to believe
3. Mental health doesn’t necessarily decline as we age
4. Positive age beliefs can extend our lives by up to 7.5 years
Vo! spoke to a few Amdavaadi seniors to examine the relevance of the same in the Indian context.
For 72-year-old Gira Yogesh Dalal, life has been a “magnificent journey, full of insights and learning experiences.”
In her words: “I do not consider myself old. After all the years of hard work, I have come a long way and am enjoying it to the fullest. Positive thoughts and constant activity let me live independently with mental peace and well-being.”
She leads an active life. “Why should we use the word retired? I still do everything on my own. Chores keep me very busy and grandkids take a huge amount of energy and time when their parents are not around. However, I never fail to take care of myself, I never fail to take out time for myself.”
The mantra, as she says, is “me time” and to stop ascribing to the “number game.” She emphasises on need for productive use of time and a positive mindset to shoot up the number of years one is going to live. “Age is just a number and mental health DOES NOT deteriorate with age. The key is in being active to get stronger by each year,” says the robust Gira.
To understand better, Vo! also spoke to former Javelin throw master, Zahid Kadri. Having been a sportsperson in prime shape, the 72-year-old, reinforces Gira’s beliefs.
“There was never any need to feel down and give up. Age happens but to what extent, is entirely in our control. I have been particular about my diet and fitness routine. Negligence of self is the worst enemy and a positive mindset can help overcome the debilitating effects of age. Stay out of stress, family quarrels and in general, wear a positive smile and mind frame. Even today, if the womenfolk of the family are busy, I happily rustle up a meal. Grandkids are definitely a bundle of energy. We must engage ourselves in a creative pursuit, be it reading, travelling or just art and gardening,” Kadri shares the secret to beat the much-hyped “age blues.