When we hear the word Rebellion, we often think it’s a bad thing. But that’s not always the case. After all, America’s foundations were, in part, based upon healthy rebellion, right?
Now, it’s time for another good dose of rebellion. Our modern American culture has adopted some false and limiting beliefs about aging we would all do well to reject.
The Power of Beliefs and Culture
Our beliefs impact our health dramatically – we read about the science of how our mind influences our body. The placebo effect is an incredible testimony to the power of belief to heal the body, while the nocebo effect shows us the power of negative beliefs to bring harm.
But what we don’t hear so much about is how our culture influences our health. Culture is how we, as particular groups of people, learn to assign meaning to life events. Our culture influences not only how we perceive the world, but it also impacts how our brains develop and function, and ultimately, our health.
If we buy into the ways our culture currently perceives the process of aging, our bodies will follow suit and we will age prematurely with chronic illness as our companion.
The Current Aging Trends in America
Americans are aging with increasingly poor health in the form of chronic, lifestyle related illnesses. Baby boomers are the first generation to live longer than their parents but live with more chronic sickness than their parents. This trend is complex and involves many factors – processed foods that create inflammation and lack nutrients, unhealthy reliance on medications, and a sedentary lifestyle, just to name a few. But another, less frequently discussed factor is cultural beliefs about aging, such as:
- Growing older involves a progressive and uncontrollable deterioration.
- When you reach “middle age” you should dress to look older, act “your age,” and decrease your activity.
- As you age, you inevitably will get weaker, less mentally resilient, and able to do less.
- Your genetics are the primary driver of how you will age and what kinds of illnesses you will get.
Alternative Views on Aging
Mario Martinez, PhD is a neuropsychologist who has studied the cultural, genetic, and psychoneuroimmunological aspects of growing older. He has interviewed many centenarians across multiple cultures and found there is sound scientific reason for having great hope – hope that we can learn to age with vibrance and good health by defying our culture’s aging myths.
Dr. Martinez argues that growing older is merely the passage of time while aging is what we decide to do with the time. And most of us unwittingly make those decisions about what to do as we age based upon our cultural beliefs. We don’t have to accept the stories our culture tells about aging, though. We can rebel and live more healthy, meaningful, active, joyful lives, instead.
Some current estimates are that we spend over $14 TRILLION a year in the US just maintaining chronic illnesses – not improving them. Imagine what our world could be like if we could change our mindsets and our lifestyles, turn back the chronic illness aging trend, and use this money and our time on this earth in better ways? It’s possible, the question is, how?
Some of the things Dr. Martinez does so well in his books, and we also do at NeuroSource, is help people learn ways to use evidence based, drug-free, mindbody techniques to improve their health and their lives. These are not woo-woo, New Agey practices, but scientifically sound, well researched methods that we know lead to healthier, happier, more meaningful and peaceful lives. When we live in states of optimism, peace, and purpose, we increase the odds that we will remain healthier as we age.
I’ll leave you with just one method to begin to rebel against the aging myths – what I like to call, “Telling Yourself a Better Story.”
- Really start to pay attention to the things you say and the thoughts you think to yourself with regard to your aging. Are any of those messages aligning with the cultural myths about aging? Are you telling yourself you’re too old to do certain things, are you making self-fulfilling prophecies about aging poorly?
- When you catch yourself agreeing with these aging myths, stop, breathe, and pay attention to where you feel that belief in your body. Many times we will feel a sensation in areas we have struggled with illness or pain or injury. Just take a moment and breathe and relax. Imagine healing energy soothing and revitalizing those areas.
- Now imagine yourself as vital and energized. Ask yourself what beliefs or statements would help you age with vitality and grace so you can enjoy your life and share your wisdom with those younger than you. Write those statements down and use them as daily meditations.
There are many things we can do to detach from the cultural programming and age more vibrantly. Mindset, diet, exercise, having meaningful social connections, and being mindful of environmental toxins are some areas we can work on. So, let’s join together and learn to age well so we can be a blessing to the younger generations.
Check out Mario Martinez’ book … The MindBody Self: How Longevity is Culturally Learned and the Causes of Health are Inherited
Lee Ann Foster, Ms