Myths about aging are so widespread that most people – including older adults – assume they are true. The fact is, growing older does not have to mean losing physical or mental fitness. But believing you will decline as you age actually makes it more likely to happen. Conversely, having positive perceptions about aging is linked to a longer lifespan.
Our culture is filled with vibrant mature adults who show that age is nothing but a number. Examples include actors James Earl Jones, 91, and Samuel L. Jackson, 73. Fitness trainer, Ernestine Shepherd, 85, was named the world’s oldest bodybuilder. News correspondent Bill Whitaker, 70, reports for “60 Minutes.” Actress Rita Moreno, 90, was recently cast in a remake of “West Side Story,” 60 years after the original film brought her fame.
Here are the top 10 myths about aging.
1. Older adults can’t learn new skills.
This is untrue. While older adults may have more trouble multitasking, they also have a lifetime of experience and more extensive vocabularies than younger adults. Learning new skills benefits mature adults by stimulating the brain and helping to improve memory.
2. Dementia or memory loss is inevitable.
The American Psychological Association reports that dementia is not a normal part of aging. About 5% of adults between the ages of 71 and 79 are affected. The number is higher – 37% – for adults above age 90. To stay sharp, stimulate your brain as you age. Try new activities like reading, painting, and music or play games like sudoku or chess.
3. Older adults shouldn’t exercise.
Much of the physical decline people blame on aging is actually caused by lack of exercise. Physical activity is good for your mind and body. Aerobic exercise helps you manage chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension. Low-impact activities like walking, golfing or biking help improve your health and maintain your independence.
4. Depression is normal in older adults.
Life changes, such as losing a spouse or living alone, can lead older adults to feel depression, anxiety and sadness. But while these feelings are a reaction to circumstances, they are not caused by aging. Studies show that depression is less common in older adults than in younger adults. Mature adults benefit from long-term friendships and a lifetime of memories. Engaging with others through family connections, social activities or volunteering reduces the risk of becoming depressed.