With retirement age being raised around the world and an increased participation of the elderly in various professional fields, it seems we are beginning to find effective ways of countering ageism.
Ageing is as much a psychological process as it is biological. How old or young you feel has a big influence on both your health and how other people view you. There is a small but solid body of research to suggest that your psychological perception of your age can have a significant effect on your physical state as well. Ellen Langer, a psychological scientist from Harvard, conducted an experiment where she had men over the age of 60 live in a retrofitted retreat, while they were asked to pretend that they were living in that year. It reconditioned their minds to think that they were living in the past, as a result of which their vision and strength improved.
In another interesting study by Langer, women were asked to cut and dye their hair at a hair salon and volunteers were asked to look at the before and after photographs. Participants who believed that dying their hair made them look younger were perceived as younger than their actual age by the volunteers. Those who did not believe so were not seen as younger by the volunteers.
Addressing ageism at home and workplace
The cultural perception around ageing is something that needs to be addressed if we are to move forward as a society. While there are cultures across the world where the wisdom of elders is celebrated, it is a common practice to relegate them to hospitals and nursing homes as they age. Ageing is often treated with distaste and senior citizens are treated as a burden more than a gift.
Not surprisingly, ageism is very much a part of the work culture, and we need to educate people in order to dispel the archaic and unfounded stereotypes about older workers. A number of seniors continue to work post retirement. According to a study by the website Times Jobs, people over the age of 60 have started to slowly grab a bigger piece of the employment cake. From engineering projects and manufacturing to consulting services and the power industry, a number of retirees continue to contribute to the society. Governments across the world have also started to recognise it and have started to relax the retirement age cap, with some of them going as far as to pass laws to outlaw age based discrimination. We should do everything we can to encourage and educate them to stay healthy. With just a little bit of practice, they can stay just as sharp and supple as ever.
Challenge mind and body
The idea that seniors cannot learn new skills has no basis in reality. People over the age of 50 are among the fastest growing group of internet users. The readiness to learn new things is a key factor to keeping the mind young. It is easier today than it has ever been for older generations because of the ubiquity of technology. All of us rely on computers, cell phones, video chat, GPS, just to name a few. It takes just a few minutes to receive emergency care, download e-books, book tickets for travelling, and speak to grandchildren who stay continents away. Willingness to spend time and effort learning new things is the will keep the mind from losing its edge.
Resistance training is another way to make sure that your body stays young. It helps maintain muscle mass and body strength as you age. If you are over the age of 60 and want to incorporate this in your daily exercise regimen, you should focus on the leg muscles more as they are the most responsible for mobility. Taking frequent walks for at least 150 minutes a week will ensure that your heart stays healthy. It is also very important to get a good night’s sleep as you grow older. If your sleep pattern is erratic, then remove all distractions from in and around your sleeping area. If you suffer from insomnia, then you will benefit from following a restrictive sleep regimen. Limiting bed time makes you sleepier and also promotes sound and efficient sleep.
Challenging the mind and body is the key to staying young. Surround yourself with people who have the same outlook to keep yourselves going. The more your personal hurdles, conquests and milestones, the younger you will stay on the inside, and that is the only number that counts.
The author is the director and creative strategist, CHAI Kreative and Return of Million Smiles