How your own ageist views can harm your health

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Study - Walking slowly at age 45 could be a sign of accelerated aging

Your own negative feelings about aging can impact your health in various ways.

The World Health Organization defines ageism as, “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.”

Internalizing ageist messages can interrupt your ability to age healthily and affects your physical health and psychological wellbeing.

Mental health

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine found that older adults who held negative views about aging often had low levels of psychological wellbeing and felt less optimistic about the future. Such ageist attitudes impact mental health, and older adults were found to report increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

Over one-third of adults over the age of 45 report feeling lonely and one-fourth of adults over 65 are considered socially isolated, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Society’s messaging about aging often makes older adults feel devalued and ignored. These messages and insecurities around age contribute to loneliness in older adults.

Attitudes affect longevity

Those who hold negative views about aging have more difficulty in recovering from disability and, on average ,live 7.5 fewer years than those who have positive views about aging, according to the WHO. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that older adults who had ageist views had an increased number of illnesses, decreased physical function and had slower walking speeds. Overall, older adults with negative associations around aging had worsened health conditions.

How to change your views

An analysis published in 2020 found that over 56% of participants from all over the world held ageist views.

Discover if you have negative views about aging by taking this quiz by Every Age Counts. While the company uses data from Australia, the quiz can help you identify what your thoughts on aging are. Author and aging expert Becca Levy led the WHO’s Global Campaign to Combat Ageism and suggests older adults start belief journaling.

Over the period of a week, write down every portrayal of aging you observe, whether that’s on television, in conversations or on social media, and tally up both negative and positive portrayals. When looking at the negative items, think if there are different ways to portray that person that aren’t ageist. To combat your own ageist views, increase your awareness of ageist messages and debunk them for yourself.

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