Joel arrived home from Boston over the weekend bearing a Wall St. Journal article entitled “Why Everything You Know About Aging is Probably Wrong.” Now, I grew up in a home where the WSJ (Wall St. Journal) arrived punctually around 6 am every morning, and I live in a home where the WSJ has been arriving punctually around 6 am every morning, but Alan and I have never had a son hand carry an article from the WSJ home to us, so I definitely took note that this was going to be something special! The article quoted study after study to debunk many of the miserable myths enshrouding the path towards old age. If you want all the facts and figures, I recommend tracking down a copy of the Dec. 1, 2014 WSJ’s “Encore” section, but the skinny is this: In all areas of expected decline (including memory, sexual activity, financial security, social satisfaction, etc.), the 65+ set reported experiencing less serious problems than anticipated …and frankly, a lot more positivity toward life than anticipated too!
Of course, it may be argued that healthy people were the ones responding to the survey, but I found the results of the various studies totally encouraging for the general population of us Baby Boomers who are speeding into retirement age! Excluding residents of old folk homes, here are six “myths” that have proven to be untrue among the majority of senior citizens:
*Depression is more prevalent: Studies show that our sense of emotional well-being actually improves with age up until the 70s. “Contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time of life, the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade” (Prof. Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity).
*Cognitive Decline is Inevitable: Wisdom can compensate for the loss of specific memory. The average age for those in the top 20% of the work force rated as best able to make wise decisions is 65! (Whew…I’m 64, so might still have a chance…) How to keep your mind sharp? Think positive and learn new skills. “Novelty combined with mental challenge is very important…Get out of your comfort zone” (Prof. Denise Park, director of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study).
*Older Workers are Less Productive: Wrong again, in “the vast majority of academic studies.” In fact, research indicates that the 55+ set have a performance edge and are more able to avoid serious errors.
*Older People are More Lonely: Until about age 50, people tend to add to their social circles, and although those circles seem to contract somewhat after that age, people report having more intimacy in their relationships, less conflict, and less loneliness! So, if you’re feeling lonely as a young person, be encouraged!!
*Creativity Declines with Age: Midlife is the true epicenter of creative productivity for the population as a whole, but there are two other cluster times for creative genius: Conceptual artists peak in their 20s and 30s, but experimental artists, who rely on wisdom and experience, take decades more to perfect their style…Mark Twain, Paul Cezanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Robert Frost to name just a few. (No time off for old behavior! Let’s keep practicing to make perfect.)
*More Exercise is Better: Exercise is absolutely key to good health, but moderation is key to maintaining good health. Overuse can cause stress injuries. Studies show that 1-2.5 hours of challenging aerobic exercise per week with two days off seems to be ideal, and not more than 50-60 minutes on any one day with “at least one day off each week.” (The Lord’s been saying this for eons! 🙂 )
Beyond debunking those specific myths, the article quoted Gallup-Heathways Well-Being Index telephone survey of over 85,000 Americans this year, which revealed that the majority of people felt like their lives had turned out better than they’d expected, and the 65+ set topped the charts in each of these areas: Feeling like their lives have (1) purpose, (2) love and support, (3) appropriate financial management, (4) enough physical health to enjoy normal daily life, and (5) a pleasant and safe living community.
So, if you’re young, be encouraged. It looks like things will just keep improving for many decades to come. If you’re a Baby Boomer, take heart. Life for the majority of us will likely turn out better than we’ve feared. For those of you facing devastating loss, I pray for your recovery and future health and peace. It know it may not come in this life, but God does promise ultimate healing and eternal life for those who ask. Beth Moore says it this way: If we ask, God will deliver us either from our trials or through our trials. Are you willing to trust Him with your life and let him bless you throughout your life?
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).