Yes, there are advantages to getting older

Senior couple nordic walking in park

Image: pikselstock/Bigstock.com

As we age, it can be easy to think of the negatives. That look in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning can be a bit of a jolt. And a reminder that things aren’t like they used to be.

Then, depending on who we are, our personality, our situation and so on, we can be tempted to: withdraw into our own life; to eat or drink too much; and to give up on exercise.

That list of negatives can easily be expanded.

But, according to research, ageing can actually help us achieve the kinds of things we know we should do.

Study into age and motivation

When Laura Carstensen from Stanford University researched age and motivation she discovered the obvious: we who are older associate age with the amount of time left in life.

More significant was her finding: ‘Whereas younger people make choices to expand their horizons and gather experiences and resources for the future, older people become more conscious of time’s passage and focus more on the present.’

The bonus is that, ‘Older people tend to see more clearly what is important, value their relationships more, grow more selective in everyday choices, and pursue goals that prioritise emotional meaning.’

Age and experience can give a clearer sense of what’s important, which also leads to a stronger motivation to do the right thing, she discovered.

Helping our motivation

Carstensen used exercise as her study tool. She attempted to motivate and encourage people to start walking with two different messages. A negative and a positive.

The negative: ‘Not walking can make you lose the flexibility of your joints and speed up the process of osteoporosis.’

The positive: ‘Walking helps you to preserve the flexibility of the joints and slows the process of osteoporosis.’

Younger people responded the same to either message. But older adults responded better to the positive message and they increased their walking over time.

When she added personal incentives to keep them walking, young and old responded the same, except when the incentive of money for charities was offered. That was more effective for older participants.

‘Importantly,’ says Carstensen, ‘older participants were more likely to maintain increased step counts even after incentives were discontinued.’

The advantages of being older

This study demonstrated several advantages to being older.

  • We’re aware of the passage of time, which helps focus our minds on the present.
  • We understand more of what’s important in life.
  • We value relationships.
  • We’re more selective in our daily choices.
  • We ‘pursue goals that prioritise emotional meaning’.
  • We have a stronger motivation to do the right thing.
  • We’re motivated best by positive messages and thinking.
  • Once motivated, we tend to maintain the follow-through.

It’s this motivation that can help us begin and maintain a healthy life balance. In this study here, it was about walking—a health pursuit. But that could be expanded into other areas such as the relationships we value, the daily choices we make, and doing the right thing.

And it seems that with positive messages and reinforcement about what’s best for us, we’re more likely to follow through. And that follow-through may even help lessen the early morning mirror shock. Hopefully!

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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Category: Ageing

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