A new study out of Oregon is good news for optimists! Researchers from Oregon State University recently conducted a survey that found people who are more optimistic about the aging process reported fewer health symptoms from stress.
The researchers surveyed older adults every day for a period of 100 days. Survey participants were initially asked a series of questions to measure their thoughts on the aging process. Participants were asked to what degree they agreed or disagreed with statements like “As you get older, you are less useful” and “Today, I felt difficulties were piling up so high I could not overcome them.” After that, survey participants were asked daily questions about their health and stress levels. At the end of the study, researchers found that people who had a better view of the aging process reported fewer health symptoms from stress.
“Better self-perceptions of aging are good for your health, regardless of how much stress you have, or how much stress you perceive you have,” said Dakota Witzel, the lead researcher and doctoral candidate from OSU.
Stress and Your Health
Stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and anxiety. Adopting a rosier outlook about your life can actually help improve it.
It’s not that the more optimistic study participants experienced less stress. Rather, they anticipated being able to handle whatever stress came their way.
On particularly stressful days, study participants with a negative outlook on aging reported almost three times as many physical symptoms than days of normal or anticipated stress levels. More physical health symptoms from stress can cause more stress. Experiencing poor health is obviously stressful in and of itself, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative outcomes.
Stress and Senior Health
This also means that stereotypes about aging can have a real-world negative effect on seniors. Ageism is unhealthy! Negative stereotypes about older people being less useful to society or weaker and slower than younger adults cause real, physical harm to older people in the workplace and beyond.
Seniors with more positive outlooks on the aging process have better physical outcomes. So, how can one aim for more optimism in their life? Optimism can be thought of as a muscle that needs daily exercise. Try implementing an optimistic mantra like “I can handle this” or “this too shall pass” to deal with the stressors of daily life. Implementing a morning meditation could help as well.
“Our self-perceptions of aging could be a modifiable resilience factor shaping our physical and mental health in later life,” said Karen Hooker, the study’s co-author and professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Simply imagining yourself as a happy, healthy older adult can help it to become true!