Aging: It’s All In Your Mind

updating imageLike most animal lovers, I learn a lot from my dogs. ( Don’t stop reading if you’re not a dog lover- I promise this will apply to you as well! )

A couple of years ago Emily- a 6 month old pit bull- left the Bark Avenue Rescue Facility in Los Angeles and joined my family, which at the time consisted of me and Woodstock, a 12 year old male pit-lab mix.

Immediately something interesting happened.

Woodstock- who was at the time, to put it diplomatically, a senior citizen- got a new lease on life. He started running again, like he used to do when he was a puppy. Emily got him to chase her everywhere. They played constantly. Woodstock spent less and less time sleepily contemplating life, and more and more time actively involved in it.

He literally got younger.

I was thinking about this recently while reading Ellen Langer’s brilliant book “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility”.

Langer you may know from the Oprah show—she authored the classic book, “Mindfulness”– but she’s a Harvard psychologist with a stunning resume in social research that goes back thirty years. In one study she took a group of really decrepit elderly men in their late 80’s from their assisted living home, packed them all up and took them to a cabin in the woods for the week. The catch was that the cabin was engineered to be a “time capsule”. All the furniture was from the 1950’s. Posters on the wall were from the 1950’s. There was a small black and white television, rigged to play only shows like “Sgt. Bilko” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”. A 1957 Ford was parked outside.  They met daily to discuss “current events” like the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1 and the need for bomb shelters, and Castro’s advance into Havana. “Best-selling” titles like “Exodus” and “Goodbye Columbus” lined the bookshelves, Nat “King” Cole played on the “radio”.

By the end of the week, an amazing thing had happened.

These men- most of whom couldn’t carry their bags to their rooms at the start of the study- were able to carry them back to the van at the end of the week. Their blood pressure had lowered. Their posture was more erect. Their measured grip strength had improved, as had joint flexibility and manual dexterity. Their hearing and memory showed significant gains. Even their finger length increased- their arthritis diminished and they were able to straighten their fingers more.

Absolutely amazing.

“The study shaped not only my view of aging but also my view of limits in a more general way for the next few decades”, writes Langer. “Over time I have come to believe less and less that biology is destiny. It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us but rather our mindset about our physical limits”.

Now I accept none of the medical wisdom regarding the courses our diseases must take as necessarily true”.

What we surround ourselves with deeply influences how we function, what we believe about ourselves, and what we become. Studies have shown that even obesity is “contagious” in the sense that we are more likely to be obese if we have many obese friends. Our expectations of ourselves- and the expectations of those around us- influence us far more deeply than we appreciate. What we believe about our health has a powerful influence not only on how we feel, but also on objective measures of well-being and vitality.

As they say in the motivational speaking world, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time around”.

Woodstock became “younger” when he interacted with 6-month old Emily, who expected him to behave like other puppies and had no concept of him as a “limited” older citizen. The men in Langer’s study behaved as if they were in the 1950’s when they “expected” more of themselves and believed they could deliver.

So what’s the message?

Maybe it’s this: Definitions are fluid. How we think about our health and what we think is possible actually makes a difference in what is possible. What- and who- we surround ourselves with really makes a difference. And if we allow ourselves to be defined by narrow and confining images of who and what we limit- rather than expand- possibility.

No wonder Langer calls her work “the psychology of possibility”.

In 1954, something that had never been done before in the history of humans was achieved when Roger Bannister ran a mile in just under 4 minutes, a feat that had been believed to be unreachable and physiologically impossible. A mere month and a half later Bannister’s record was broken, and now the 4-minute mile is the standard of all professional middle distance runners. In the last 50 years, the record has been lowered by 50 seconds.

If you can see it- as every athlete after Bannister did— you’ll believe it’s possible.

If you believe it’s possible- you just might be able to do it.

In what area of your health- or life- have self-imposed barriers, or restricting definitions- limited you?

More important- are those limits real? Or did you make them up?

Because if you made those limits up– even if you had widespread agreement about them, like the men in Langer’s study who everyone agreed were “disabled”- then maybe it’s time to come up some new, more empowering possibilities.

After all, we’re the ones who write our self-definitions.

We’re the ones who can rewrite them.

The possibilities are limitless.

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About Dr. Jonny Bowden 12 Articles

Dr. Jonny Bowden, also known as The Nutrition Myth Buster, is a nationally known expert on weight loss and health, and has been seen on Dr. Oz, the Doctors, and every major television network. He is the best-selling author of 15 books, including Living Low Carb, The Great Cholesterol Myth, and his latest, Smart Fat: Eat More Fat Lose More Weight Get Healthy Now!

Dr. Jonny—a former professional pianist and conductor—earned six certifications in personal training and fitness, has a Masters degree in psychology, a PhD in holistic nutrition, and is board certified by the American College of Nutrition. He has written, contributed to or consulted on hundreds of articles in publications as diverse as the

New York Times, People, Us, O the Oprah Magazine, In Style, Vanity Fair Online, People, GQ, Forbes Online, Clean Eating, the Huffington Post and countless others.

His personal story of overcoming addiction and ill health to become one of the top nutritional gurus in the country inspires audiences whenever he speaks. He’s much loved for his humor, his style, his delivery, and his never-ending desire to call out the health establishment whenever he believes they’re misleading us.

24 Comments

  1. Mr. Hintz is the type of Democrat we need in this current political atmosphere. One who shows high regard for the well being of his coittnsuents and their best interest. It’s time someone start beating back the Republican lies. Obama should take a page from Mr. Hintz play book. To bad we don’t have more like him. Keep up the good work.

  2. jemaah bangkit,Kawan tu jelas-jelas kata Ali Muhamad yang tak pernah datang Malaysia, bukan Muhamad Ali. Yang jemaah bangkit terus 'meracau' membangkit fasal Muhamad Ali tu apa benda? Hahahaha geli hati aku.

  3. Be', non ci sono mai stato nella Germania Est (quando era ancora divisa) però la immaginavo esattamente come nella tua descrizione. Desaturata e livida. Pensa che a me in V elementare (avevamo una maestra "rossa") mi insegnarono che il Muro fu costruito dai nazisti. Motivazione? Perché erano cattivi. Come poi se ci fosse stato bisogno di questa balla per attestare la cattiveria dei nazisti…

  4. Also, I have my button coded wrong and it links to my photobucket. I don't know why but I can't figure out the right coding for the text box so people can grab the code and I guess the one I did use is ollllld. So, I need to fix it…just wanted to let you know. 🙂

  5. Makes sense, in a few points I wish to share my views. Your points 10 to 14 is covered in your CMP 2, that is point 2 takes care of 10 to 14.  I STRONGLY disagree we come and go empty handed and that the outer gives no happiness – metaphysics brings insights; one is that there is no distinction between the inner or outer, this just IS.  I will agree that pleasure of that which lies outside the body mind combine is experienced within the body mind combine.  I do agree that we need metaphysics. ÂÂ

  6. Adam; Have you ever heard the words skilled labor. The US is far behind other countries with workers who have degrees in electronics, engineering and so on. What I have seen for a labor pool in Rockford is pathetic. No longer can we thrive on general labor jobs that only require a GED. There are plenty of CNC and other high tech jobs out there that cannot be filled.

  7. Being descriptive is extremely important to get the message across regardless of genre. As a reader, I do like to have a little left to my own imagination, and there is nothing more disappointing that reading so deeply about a character only to find the person cast in a movie doesn't match my own vision.Great to have found you through the A to Z.

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