Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Aging: sit less and shape up your attitude

I'm continuing to clean out my queue of aging articles that have been languishing as potential posts...

Reynolds points to two studies. In one, Swedish researchers showed that a group of 68 year old couch potatoes who spent less time sitting and more time in an exercise program had longer telomere caps at the end of their DNA (the caps shorten with aging). The interesting finding was that this was related not to the exercise, but to simply not sitting down as much. A second article reviewed a large database of Canadian adults to find that longer amounts to time spent standing correlated with lower mortality rates.

Span does a review (linking to original articles) of work showing, for example that people who hold more positive views towards aging live 7.5 years longer on average than those who think negatively about aging, and recover more quickly from disabilities. Age stereotypes have a powerful effect, people become what they think. Thinking of older age as a time when one can feel capable, active, full of life, a time of wisdom, self-realization and satisfaction, is rather different from imagining it to be a time of becoming useless, helpless or devalued. A growing body of research shows that people with the latter attitudes are less likely to seek preventive medical care and die earlier, and more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning.

One interesting bit of work shows that subliminal intervention (flashing positive about aging on a screen so briefly that the brain registers them but they are not perceived) significantly strengthened positive age stereotypes and self-perceptions of age. The abstract:
Negative age stereotypes that older individuals assimilate from their culture predict detrimental outcomes, including worse physical function. We examined, for the first time, whether positive age stereotypes, presented subliminally across multiple sessions in the community, would lead to improved outcomes. Each of 100 older individuals (age = 61–99 years, M = 81) was randomly assigned to an implicit-positive-age-stereotype-intervention group, an explicit-positive-age-stereotype-intervention group, a combined implicit- and explicit-positive-age-stereotype-intervention group, or a control group. Interventions occurred at four 1-week intervals. The implicit intervention strengthened positive age stereotypes, which strengthened positive self-perceptions of aging, which, in turn, improved physical function. The improvement in these outcomes continued for 3 weeks after the last intervention session. Further, negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were weakened. For all outcomes, the implicit intervention’s impact was greater than the explicit intervention’s impact. The physical-function effect of the implicit intervention surpassed a previous study’s 6-month-exercise-intervention’s effect with participants of similar ages. The current study’s findings demonstrate the potential of directing implicit processes toward physical-function enhancement over time.


  1. Anonymous1:36 AM

    About age stereotypes.

    How likely is it that it could be the other way around:
    People who recover more quickly from disabilities live 7.5 years longer and hold more positive views towards aging. People who don't recover so well are less likely to seek preventive medical care and die earlier, more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning, and they think more negatively about aging.

  2. Good point. A chicken or the egg sort of issue. What causes what.....