Friday, April 22, 2022

"Breaking the Age Code": Positive Attitude & Longevity

Imagine the time, effort and money spent on vitamins, diet plans and self help books when in reality you can improve your longevity by simply improving your outlook on life. "Breaking the Age Code," released ten days ago, makes a compelling case.

The central hypothesis of social psychologist Becca Levy’s research is that “societally based age beliefs influence our health and the biological markers of aging.” Levy presents her research which suggests that individuals who have a positive attitude on aging will have a survival advantage on average of 7.5 years, or approximately 10% of the current U.S. life expectancy.

Levy came to this conclusion when in 2002 she looked at both the Ohio Longitudinal Study on Aging and Retirement and the National Death Index. The former included a survey about the subjects' attitudes towards aging, and the latter provided the longevity.

You may ask if that in reality if it's the people who are healthier that can maintain a sanguine outlook. She assures that with the help of a statistician that this is not the case. The attitude is causing the health benefit, and not the reverse.

I remember sitting in the lecture hall of the second year of medical school 32 years ago when a topic was introduced as new but with much supporting evidence. That topic was psychoneuroimmunology, the study of the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease as it related to the immune system. Immunosenescence, or the weakening of the immune system, is a real phenomenon and is responsible for increase susceptibility to disease such as influenza and even cancer. The idea that psychoneuroimmunology can improve functioning of the immune system would be the proposed mechanism for increased longevity.

The biological markers mentioned in this book include elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a surrogate indicator of chronic inflammation.

It's important that aging can be broken down into two components: maturing, in the good sense, and senescence which means decay.

She debunks the notion of the "senior moment" people associate with memory lapses. Levy notes that this can happen with those younger, and older adults can achieve tremendous feats of memory when a goal is set. Also, in other countries when elderhood is respected, memory decline as well as dementia and physical function loss, is not as pronounced.

The attempts to fight this prejudice, which as steadily worsened over the last 200 years, has to go against the tide of the anti-aging products as well as the expensive medical interventions that are used as a last resort instead of facing better lifestyle choices. There is also the belief that with the Internet and advanced search capabilities, older adults are no longer the repository of wisdom, but need help from those younger, especially with technology.

It's a wonder that as a voting bloc, the elderly have yet to be adequately represented politically. However, Levy has a sanguine outlook, anticipating an "age liberation movement." The end of this book is all about methods for activists, but when dealing with traditional healthcare in the U.S., ambassadors might be more successful in finding the beginnings of useful change.

No comments:

Post a Comment

WBUR's "Smarter health: How AI is transforming health care"

This a WBUR radio series starting today : In the first episode in our series Smarter health, we explore the potential of AI in health care —...