I’ve written here previously if you think life peaks in middle age and then it’s all downhill after that, that’s what you get. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Most of us now agree that lessening our stress has a positive impact on our blood pressure, but it wasn’t too long ago when that idea was thought to be a bunch of left-coast woo woo.

The premise here is that what we think or how we feel actually affects our physical health; indeed, it actually affects our physical surroundings. The fact that yoga and meditation and mindfulness have become much more mainstream in our society is testament that more and more people are agreeing with this premise.

The premise works both ways — our thoughts and feelings can engender positive and/or negative influence on our individual health.

So if it works for us as individuals, can it work for us collectively as a society? Yes, of course it can!

Ageism, a term coined by Robert Butler in 1969, is the stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. Butler used it to describe: a) prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age, and the aging process; b) discriminatory practices against older people; c) institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people. 

Ageism is both cultural prejudice and internalized prejudice.

Research recently published by the Yale School of Public Health indicates that having positive feelings about growing older helps ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Let me repeat that: Having positive feelings about growing older helps to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

“We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia,” states Becca Levy, PhD, professor of public health and of psychology at Yale and lead author of the study. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism, which is a source of negative age beliefs.”

Professor Levy’s reasoning is: 1) ageism (negative age beliefs) increases dementia in our society; 2) because of never-seen-before longevity, the social cost of dementia is increasing astronomically; 3) reducing ageism will reduce the burgeoning societal costs (not just financial) of dementia.

This is not the only research to support the above-mentioned premise. In one study, people with more positive beliefs about aging lived an average of seven and a half years longer than people with more negative beliefs about aging.

In another study, older people holding more positive aging beliefs were 44% more likely to recover from a health episode that affected their activities of daily living.

In a third study, older people, subliminally exposed to positive words such as “spry” and “creative,” performed significantly better in certain physical ways — such as getting out of a chair or signing their name — than did older people who were not exposed to positive words.

Our consciousness is a key to our aging. Professor Levy is correct in her call for a public health campaign against ageism. It is not only fiscally necessary, it is morally right. As I wrote here two months ago, “It is outrageous and unacceptable that we make others and ourselves feel shame or failure just for living.”

We can all begin just by talking about ageism around our dinner tables or with our friends — or even with our enemies. Everybody ages.

Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.

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