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Aging & Society

Challenge These Four Myths About Aging

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In our youth-worshipping culture, gloomy stereotypes about getting older persist. 

Left unchallenged they can become self-fulfilling prophecies and may lead to senior years that may be less vibrant than they should be. Here are four myths about aging and how to refute them.

Myth #1: Pain is a natural part of getting older.

While chronic pain isn’t rare in older adults, many pain disorders actually occur less frequently as we age. That’s according to an article in The Journal of Family Practice that looked at how myths about pain might be undermining the care that patients receive. Moreover, the article points out that migraine pain, as well as low back, neck and facial pain are less common among older adults than younger ones.

How to Fight the Myth

Don’t accept pain as inevitable. Keep a diary of your symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Ask him or her if there are lifestyle changes that might help relieve your discomfort.

Myth #2: After a certain age there’s little benefit in exercising

New research suggests that ongoing exercise is powerful medicine against what was once seen as the inevitable frailties of aging. The studies, conducted by British scientists, looked at recreational cyclists between the ages of 55 and 79 who had been biking for decades. As one of the researchers noted, “Their bodies have been allowed to age optimally, free from the problems usually caused by inactivity. Remove the activity and their health may likely deteriorate.”

How to Fight the Myth

Whatever it is that keeps you active and gives you joy, keep doing it. Keep pedaling, swimming, walking, lifting weights, doing yoga or tai chi. “Find an exercise that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of physical activity,” the British scientists advised. “You will reap the rewards in later life by enjoying an independent and productive old age.”

Myth #3: With age comes unhappiness and depression

While rates of depression may increase with older adults, it’s certainly not inevitable. In fact, many studies suggest that our later years are our happiest. For example, a 2016 study conducted at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found psychological well-being steadily improves as we age. As Dilip Jeste, M.D., senior author of the study concluded, “Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade.” In fact, his research reveals that stress, depression and anxiety are highest during our 20s and 30s.

How to Fight the Myth

Celebrate and share with others the things you enjoy about getting older, from more time to spend on hobbies and interests to a greater sense of confidence about who you are.

Myth#4: It’s too late to learn something new

One of the best ways to keep your mind sharp and your memory strong is by learning something new. And, research shows that to reap this benefit you need to take on an activity that’s both novel and mentally demanding. Psychologist Denise Park, Ph.D., an expert on the aging brain at the University of Texas at Dallas, found that while listening to classical music or doing word puzzles may be good mental stimulants, sustained engagement in an activity like learning digital photography or quilting may provide even more of the extra brain boost we need.

How to Fight the Myth

Look through the class catalog of a local college or community center and find some courses that pique you interest: learning Italian, computer coding, ballroom dancing. Give yourself at least three months to immerse yourself in the new endeavor. Remember, this is for fun and stimulation — you don’t need to be the best in your class.

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