Walk into the birthday card aisle and the messages about getting older aren’t pretty: Ageing is a miserable if amusing process during which your body and mind fall apart. “The most pernicious idea about ageing is that it’s equivalent to decline,” says Bill Thomas, a geriatrician. “The truth is a lot more complicated and interesting.” He’s right. Don’t let these common myths fool you.
MYTH 1: You’ll get frail.
Mythbuster: Not necessarily. You can hang on to much of your muscle function and cardiovascular fitness if you strength-train consistently over the years, says Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at Cleveland Clinic. Many seniors have already received the message. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 43%
of adults ages 65 to 74 meet the federally recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and two muscle-strengthening sessions per week. It’s never too late to start: Researchers found that people in their 60s and 70s who start resistance training can develop muscle strength comparable to that of an untrained adult age 40 or younger.
Tip: Check with your doctor, then do strength training twice a week on nonconsecutive days, says nurse Ann Norwich.
MYTH 2: You’ll lose your memory.
Mythbuster: Nope. It’s perfectly natural to forget where you parked your car sometimes: Blood flow to some parts of the brain, including the frontal cortex and the medial temporal area, decreases as we age, somewhat diminishing our ability to organise or plan events and make new memories. But our semantic memory—procedural knowledge like how to ride a bike and remember facts—usually remains strong.
“If I give a vocabulary test to older adults and to 20-year-old university students, the older adults often score better,” says Dr Karen Fingerman. “People have more control than they realise when it comes to protecting their brain health,” says Dr Gary Small. Exercise, eat healthily, and surprise your brain with new challenges to help keep your memory sharp.
Tip: Put on your dancing shoes. A recent study of people ages 69 to 88 showed that 10 weeks of 45-minute waltz classes improved short-term memory and cognitive function.
MYTH 3: You’ll lose your curiosity.
Mythbuster: The desire to learn and create new things persists well into old age. “Before Paul Cézanne died at 67, he was making the greatest paintings of his generation,” says author David W. Galenson. And prolific novelist Doris Lessing was still writing when she was awarded a Nobel Prize at age 87.
In fact, changes in our brains may make it easier for us to develop new ideas as we get older. After we reach 40, the brain’s frontal lobes, which help to control and guide our behavior, begin to degrade, says neurologist Rex Jung. “The gradual ‘loosening’ of constraints may allow us to make new associations more readily and perhaps increases the ability to generate new ideas.”
Adds geriatrician Patrick P. Coll, “Some people were busy doing other things all their lives. Then when they retire, they have the opportunity to dedicate themselves to a creative activity they didn’t have the time to pursue when they were younger.”
Tip: To start your creative juices flowing, take up a type of mindfulness meditation called open monitoring. Dutch researchers found that this type of meditation, in which you leave your mind open to new thoughts and sensations, induces a mental state that allows you to generate new ideas.
MYTH 4: You’ll lose interest in sex.
Mythbuster: Not really. The frequency of your sexual activity when you’re older often depends on how sexually active you’ve been all along, says Dr Luigi Ferrucci. According to a survey of 1,670 adults 45 and older, 57% of people with a regular sex partner were satisfied with their sex lives. Ageing brings experience and an increased understanding of sexuality and the fulfilling forms it can take.
MYTH 5: You’ll be flummoxed by new technology.
Mythbuster: Actually, older adults adopt new technology at high rates when it helps them reach their own goals, says psychologist Laura Carstensen. A recent study of 591 people with an average age of 68 found that 72% were open to learning new technologies.
“Despite the attention the digital divide has garnered, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier,” says psychologist William Chopik. Older adults don’t just log on to keep up with grandchildren on Facebook. A recent Pew Research study found that 20% of adults 65 and older who are online use LinkedIn and 16% use Pinterest.
(Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up for FREE to get healthy living tips, weight loss inspiration, slimming recipes and more delivered straight to your inbox!)