“It’s due to old age.” We hear or say this statement all the time. Still, in many cases, it’s simply not true. For example, forgetfulness isn’t an inevitable consequence of aging. In fact, many older adults are sharp as a tack. What’s more, some research shows diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease may be delayed or even prevented.
So, let’s look into some common unscientific assumptions about aging that are false. We’ll discover that no matter what your age, you can live, love and work just as well as the younger generation. In some cases, mature adults perform better than people half their age. Also, we’ll catch up on some healthy aging tips along the way.
Most People Go Senile as They Age
This may be the most common aging myth of all. The reality is that eight out of nine people age 65 and older are not affected by Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Other types of dementia can be caused by a variety of disorders. Still, the overall prevalence of all forms of dementia is 13.9 percent for individuals age 71 or older. This means the majority of those age 71 and older do not have any form of dementia at all.
The reality is that dementia is not caused by age ― it’s caused by disease. For instance, a wide variety of metabolic, infectious and traumatic disorders can cause dementia in anyone at any age. Even though Alzheimer’s is more common among older adults, it is by no means inevitable.
Keep the Brain Healthy
As far as avoiding dementia and challenging unscientific assumptions about aging goes, some research shows there are ways to keep your brain healthy. The major risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Advanced age
- Genetic predisposition
- History of head trauma
- Lack of exercise
- Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes
- A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
- Social isolation and depression
If you look closely at the list of risks, you don’t have to think too hard about what can be done to prevent Alzheimer’s. Diet and exercise are critical as is maintaining active social connections. Neurons (brain cells) are kind of like people. They are happy when they are active, well-nourished and have plenty of connections.
It’s Too Late to Quit Smoking or Drinking
It’s tempting to think that it’s too late to quit bad habits. Do we believe this, or is it just an excuse to continue unhealthy practices? The truth is, it’s never too late to improve your lifestyle choices. For example, quitting smoking at any time in your life may be beneficial.
One research study looked at 160,000 persons age 71 and older and asked them about their health habits. The results showed that even quitting smoking at age 60 can increase your chances for survival and add years to your life. The reason is that the effects of smoking are cumulative.
As soon as you quit smoking, you stop doing damage to your lungs and blood vessels. Plus, your body’s defense mechanisms do their best to repair as much of the damage done as possible. If you keep smoking, however, your body has to fight off the current attack and has less chance of recovery. The same logic goes with other unhealthy habits such as excessive alcohol use. It’s never too late to quit.
Older Adults Don’t Need Exercise
This is the flip side of the unscientific assumptions about aging. Exercise at any stage of life can be beneficial. First of all, staying active may decrease your chances of heart attack and stroke. Even more, regular exercise gives you immediate benefits, such as:
- More energy and endurance
- Increased strength
- Improved balance
You don’t have to run sprints to enjoy the benefits of exercise. In fact, moderate-intensity walking might be just as beneficial as high-intensity running. Brisk walking helps a lot when it comes to preventing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
If you haven’t been exercising at all, it’s best to start gradually. Maybe take a 10- to 15-minute walk two or three times a week. Then, build up over the next several weeks to where you’re taking a brisk walk five to seven times every week. Also, if you decide to start a new exercise program, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor first.
Everybody Has Aches and Pains as They Age
This aging myth does have some fact behind it. Nearly 50 percent of adults age 65 or older have been diagnosed with some kind of arthritis. Still, if we turn this one around, it means that about half of adults age 65 and older have not been diagnosed with arthritis. So while aching joints may be more common as you age, it’s by no means universal.
There is some evidence that you can prevent arthritis. Not all scientists agree on this, but none of the recommendations are harmful and may provide other benefits. Some ways you might avoid arthritis and the reasons why are:
- Eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids: Anti-inflammatory aspects may reduce joint damage.
- Control body weight: When joints carry a lighter load, they last longer. Overweight persons may be at four times the risk of developing arthritis.
- Regular exercise: Keeps muscles around the joints strong. Low impact exercise, such as swimming or cycling, may be best.
- Avoid injury: If you injure a joint, you have a much higher chance of developing arthritis in the injured joint later.
As You Age You Lose Interest in Sex
While there may be a decline in libido (sex drive) as people age, many other factors can impact this process. It appears that the frequency of sexual activity depends a lot on health, not just age. In fact, some sources state that interest in sex normally continues up until age 70. The loss of libido can be related to other health issues as well, such as depression, medications and chronic illness.
Unscientific Assumptions About Aging: Exercise, controlling blood pressure, keeping a healthy body weight and avoiding smoking all go a long way in maintaining healthy sexual body function. Sound familiar?
Older Adults Can’t Work as Well
This idea can’t be any further from the truth. Look at this list of high-powered CEOs that are all age 75 or older.
- Warren Buffett: Chairman, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway – age 85
- Sheldon Adelson:- Chairman, CEO of Las Vegas Sands – age 81
- Roger Penske:- Chairman, CEO of Penske Automotive Group – age 78
- Leslie Wexner: Founder, Executive Chairman & CEO of L Brands – age 78
- Alan Miller: Executive Chairman, CEO of Universal Health Services – age 77
- Aldo Zucaro: Chairman, CEO of Old Republic International – age 76
Older adults are a critical and vibrant asset to the successful workplace. Wharton School of Business Management Professor Peter Cappelli says, “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age.” Cappelli bases his statement on research he conducted looking at economic, demographic and psychological factors.
Older workers have been shown to score high in leadership, detail-oriented tasks, organization, listening, writing skills and problem solving ― even in tech-heavy areas like computer science. Research out of the North Carolina State University revealed that more mature programmers had command over a wider variety of topics than the younger generation. Older techies also responded to questions better and were more skilled with certain newer systems.
When You Get Old, You Become a Burden to Society
This is perhaps the most untrue ― and most unfair ― myth about aging. Perhaps it’s also a sad commentary about our modern throw-away culture. With age, characteristics like wisdom, patience and compromise are acquired. In many circumstances, the mature adult acts like glue to keep things together. They are a steady voice that calms fears during crisis. In many families, the grandparents are a source of comfort and stability to many children and grandchildren.
Plus, as you age, you acquire many more contacts and can draw upon your track record to leverage these connections.
Exercise and Diet Are Critical
Sure, this message may sound like a broken record, but the results can be astonishing. For example, the mental capacity of an active, healthy 75-year-old may be superior to that of a sedentary 40-year-old. One of the reasons for this is that the human brain is resilient. This means your mind has strength and flexibility at the same time. However, it requires care to maintain this characteristic.
Unscientific Assumptions About Aging
It’s kind of like an old baseball glove. It fits perfectly and works better than a stiff brand-new mitt. If you take good care of your brain and body, you’ll be fielding all kinds of challenges with great skill and dexterity.
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Prevalence of Dementia in the United States: The Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705925/
It’s never too late to stop smoking: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-never-too-late-to-quit-smoking-health-1207-20161201-story.html
Walk, Don’t Run, Your Way to a Healthy Heart: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp#.WYyzMVGGPDc
Arthritis-Related Statistics: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm
Arthritis Prevention: What Can You Do? http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/arthritis-prevention#7
Is loss of sex drive normal as a man gets older? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/expert-answers/loss-of-sex-drive/faq-20058237
The Surprising Truth About Older Workers: http://www.aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-07-2013/older-workers-more-valuable.html