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Youthful mindset can slow — even reverse — aging, research suggests
Your mindset can rewind aging, physically and mentally, as these jaw-dropping experiments show.
At the young age of 99, Tao Porchon Lynch still teaches weekly yoga classes and workshops internationally. Born prematurely on a ship crossing the English channel, her Indian mother died while giving birth. She was raised in France and India, working as a model, activist, actress, and wine enthusiast for most of her life. When I sat with her for an interview in 2010 she told me about walking on Gandhi's legendary Salt March. She was eleven.
A few months before I sat down with Tao, she had broken her wrist. Fractures are common as we age and can even signal the end — my grandmother's broken hip at 90 proved to be her final brush with mortality. Yet by the time I took a workshop with Tao at Manhattan's Strala Yoga, just a few months after her fracture, she was crossing her legs into lotus and lifting herself off the ground on her hands. She was 92.
When I ask her about her inspirational resilience, she tells me yoga has been a part of her life since she was young. Besides the obvious physical benefits, the mindset adjustment yoga promotes reveals the practice's true magic.
I've had a hip replacement. I'm getting dog food at A&P and got twisted, ending with a pin in hip. But health-wise I'm seldom sick. Mentally, I don't allow myself to think about tomorrow and what will happen. I don't like people to tell me what I can't do. I never thought about age.
When asked about what scares her, she laughs and tells me that the only thing she's frightened of is her assistant using her phone while in the car. To note, that's one of her two business assistants. Tao still drives herself around Hartsdale and Scarsdale to teach yoga.
Can not thinking about age really make your body younger? Fortunately, there have been a number of experiments about just that topic. The answer is yes.
Journalist Anil Ananthaswamy reports on fascinating research that shows how important your mindset is in influencing the aging process. In 1979 Ellen Langer, now a Harvard University psychology professor, invited two groups of elderly men to visit a New Hampshire monastery. One group lived inside a time capsule: everything about their week-long retreat was dialed back to reflect 1959. The other group was told to reminisce but given no specific instructions or stimulation from any era.
The control group showed no physical or biological differences, save maybe the expected vacation results. The men told to live like they did 20 years ago, however, “looked younger in the after-pictures." That's not all.
"When Langer studied the men after a week of such sensory and mindful immersion in the past, she found that their memory, vision, hearing, and even physical strength had improved," writes Ananthaswamy.
Langer never published her results. She didn't have the funding to properly control the second group and didn't want to release her data in a second-rate journal. But the experience never left her mind. Years later she conducted a study on patients with Type 2 diabetes. Forty-six subjects played computer games for an hour and a half. They had to switch games every 15 minutes. One group had a properly working clock; one had a clock that kept time slowly; the last clock was sped up. Langer wanted to know if their blood sugar levels would follow real or perceived time.
Incredibly, perceived time won out. How each subject thought about time influenced the metabolic processes inside of their bodies. Ananthaswamy writes that people between the ages of 40 and 80 tend to feel younger than their chronological age, while those in their 20 feel older. This makes sense, as Robert Sapolsky points out in Behave: after the age of 30 our metabolism slows down, which skews our perception of time. Time actually feels different. What's amazing about the research above is we have a conscious decision in how we feel about that.
Florida State University College of Medicine psychologist and gerontologist Antonio Terracciano states subjective age is correlated with factors such as walking speed, lung capacity, grip strength, and bodily inflammation. As Langer's work, among others, shows, it's not necessarily the body influencing the mind. Your mindset about aging has an equally important role in aging. Terracciano's research has shown that this affects cognition: a belief in a higher subjective age correlates with cognitive impairments and even dementia, prompting this advice:
If people think that because they are getting older they cannot do things, or cut their social ties, or incorporate this negative view which limits their life, that can be really detrimental. Fighting those negative attitudes, challenging yourself, keeping an open mind, being engaged socially, can absolutely have a positive impact.
So much can be revealed by how we talk about ourselves. How much emphasis do you place on numerical age? Do you believe age limits your physical and mental abilities? Is age an excuse for all the new things you don't try? Do you spend more time reminiscing about what once was instead of planning on what's to come? These questions and more are indicative of the mindset you have around age. And, as this research shows, will affect how you actually age.
Tao Porchon Lynch still keeps an active schedule, professionally and socially. Her body and mindset is indicative of her innate drive. As the home page of her website states: “In my head I'm still in my twenties, and I have no intention of ever growing up." Even with all her accomplishments she's still hungry for more.
You can see Tao in the photo above, assisting me in a posture she had just flawlessly demonstrated, mere months after her wrist fracture in 2010. Fifty years from today I'll be her age in this photo. Perhaps if I keep thinking I'm in my twenties I'll still stretch myself into this shape. One thing is certain: if I don't think I'll be able to, I won't. Mindset matters. The science is on our side.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Join The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live at 1 pm ET on Tuesday, July 14!
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."