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OSU study: Positive attitudes towards aging alleviate stress, enhance long-term health

Elderly woman.
Vladimir Soares
Elderly woman.

Your attitudes on aging can have a big effect on your energy, fitness, and well-being, according to a new Oregon State University Study.

It’s common for people to have negative associations with getting older, but dwelling on those can also negatively affect your response to stress.

Dakota Witzel is a doctoral candidate in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, as well as the lead author on a study that surveyed seniors over a 100-day period. Her team found that people with more positive self-perceptions of aging were better insulated against the physical effects of stress.

“If we feel good about the way that we are aging, or at least perceive our aging to be maybe graceful or good, then the impacts of our perceived stress are lessened on those physical health symptoms,” Witzel told KLCC.

Older couple dancing.
John Moeses Bauan
Older couple dancing.

“It could be a mind over matter piece of just saying, “Hey, y’know, I’m doing really well today, in terms of my aging.”

Witzel says this doesn’t mean seniors should dismiss actual health concerns or force a smile, but having a positive aspect of one’s older self can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Researchers used daily survey responses from 105 Oregon residents, from 52 to 88 years of age, through OSU’s Personal Understanding of Life and Social Experiences (PULSE) study in 2010. The research team measured the participants’ perceived stress and physical health over a 100-day period of 100 days. This included an initial questionnaire that gauged subjects’ self-perceptions on aging.

Participants were asked to agree or disagree with statements that included, “Today, I felt difficulties were piling up so high I could not overcome them,” and “As you get older, you are less useful.”

OSU findings showed that on average, higher perceived stress was tied to worse self-perceptions of aging as well as worse physical health symptoms. Alternately, more positive self-perceptions of aging were tied to fewer health symptoms.

In a release, Witzel said that self-perception of aging is an area where simple interventions can make a difference. One easy step is to acknowledge that putting a positive spin on the aging process will have a real impact on your physical health.

“Everyone should create positive images of themselves in the future as older adults, said study co-author Karen Hooker. A professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Hooker added that positive imagery will help counterbalance the “feared selves” that are so often perpetuated in negative stereotypes of aging with more positive “hoped-for” possible selves.

Another co-author is Shelbie Turner, a public health doctoral student at OSU.

Researchers noted that their study used a limited sample population: respondents to the PULSE survey were mostly white, female, and well-educated.

The study has been published in theJournals of Gerontology, and was funded by OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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