Think Young: Can Your Mind Turn Back Time?

grandma smiling with teeth

Exercising more and eating healthier is known to keep your body young. But what if your outlook on life alone can combat aging effects? The old saying, “You’re only as old as you feel” may have some truth to it. There are studies that suggest thinking young can make the body feel just as young. There is even evidence that a positive outlook on life can affect how you age. So should we all act like we are young forever?

It is known that if you relax, your blood pressure will go down. If you are having a stressful day, your blood pressure may be high, but some deep breaths will have a calming effect and your blood pressure will lower.

I you have an intense headache and the doctor gives you some medicine, you know that your headache will dissipate. But is it really the medicine that is getting rid of your headache? It turns out that even if you were given a sugar pill, you might start to feel better. This is known as the Placebo Effect. If you believe the medication is real, you can feel real effects.

This poses the question; if the mind can heal the body, can it slow the effects of aging too?

Think Young

5 old men sitting on bench by beach

In the 1979, social psychologist Ellen Langer conducted a “counterclockwise” study where she recruited a group of eight men in their 70s for a retreat in a New Hampshire monastery. These elderly men lived for a week as though it was 1959. The retreat was designed to look as though it was twenty years earlier, complete with vintage TVs and midcentury radios that played programs from that time. They were not allowed to talk about events that happened after 1959. There were no mirrors in the building so that the men could not be reminded of their own age.

The men were also treated as though they were younger. No one offered assistance with baggage once they arrived. Langer said of the arrival, “I told them they could move them an inch at a time, they could unpack them right at the bus and take up a shirt at a time.” The men were soon making their own meals and their own choices.

At the end of the study the improvement in the men was substantial. Some of the men that needed help with baggage when they arrived and walked in with canes walked out on their own, carrying their suitcases. Most extraordinary of all, their eye sight and hearing improved. On nearly every physical and cognitive aptitude test, the men’s performance improved dramatically.

In an interview with Langer, she said at the end of the study the men even played touch football with her. The change in the men’s abilities was significant. Langer states, “Wherever you put the mind the body should follow.”

This study showed the potential of the mind. The mind and body are not separate as we once thought. It seems reversing the aging process can be as simple as not confining ourselves to act our age.

Optimism and Health

happy mom smiling

What if you could be healthier by having a positive outlook on life?

A study by Dr. Hilary Tindle examined how closely optimism is related to health. Using data from over 97,000 women, she found that those who were hopeful and confident about the future had lower rates of heart disease, cancer and mortality.

She also examined the effects of cynicism - feelings of pessimism and distrust of other people. She found that women with lower cynicism also had lower mortality risk.

Be Optimistic 

This study shows that being hopeful and confident about the future can influence our quality of life and how well we age.

Optimists tend to cope with difficulties in healthier ways than pessimists. Optimists also tend to build stronger social relationships with others and deal with stress better. Women with strong support systems have lower stress levels and lower blood pressure.

When aging depends on how we live and not just genetics, why not enjoy all the time you have?

A Hopeful Recovery

To further examine how much optimist can affect our bodies, Tindle did another study. In this one she compared the effects of optimism on people diagnosed with depression with people who were not diagnosed with depression, all of which were recovering from coronary-bypass surgery.

Her results correlated with her pervious study. Among the depressed patients, those who were optimistic were more than three times as likely to positively respond to the depression treatment.

Tindle followed up with the patients after eight months. She found that the optimists had lower re-hospitalization rate after their coronary-bypass surgery. Depressed pessimists had more complications and a higher hospitalization rate. These results correlate to the idea that optimist are generally more active and cope with stress in healthier ways.

Those of us who are pessimistic, can we undo the damage? While being optimistic certainly helps, your lifestyle has the biggest effect on your health. A healthy diet, staying active, and adequate amounts of sleep are recipe for a long healthy life, and a positive attitude only helps.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

happy dad smiling

If the mind can rejuvenate the body, who knows what other aging secrets it holds. If we start thinking that our bodies will fall apart, then they actually do. We can slow this aging process by not accepting that our bodies are wearing down. Treat yourself like you always have and your body will follow.

Thinking young and having an optimistic outlook on life is a way to heal the aging body. Enjoy the time you have and you may even get more of it.