Stressing about aging damages your brain, shortens your life

Dementia, disrespect, and loneliness – that is not your future, says aging expert Ashton Applewhite.

ASHTON APPLEWHITE: When I started thinking about this, almost all my associations with aging were older, and where my fear was deepest had to do with cognition. Dementia is a terrifying disease, and we are nowhere near a cure. I think what people forget is that it is in no way typical of aging. The statistics, the latest statistics from the Alzheimer's Association and this statistic has dropped significantly just in the 10 years I've been studying this it is that one out of 10 of the entire 65-plus population does come down with Alzheimer's. The older you are, the more likely you are to get it age is the biggest risk factor so the percentage increases as you get older. But very, very few people my age, 66, have Alzheimer's. The point being, it is not typical of aging. And, telling both sides of the story here, Alzheimer's rates continue to decline. We're not sure why, but the odds of anyone listening to this coming down with Alzheimer's have gotten lower and lower. And people are getting diagnosed at later ages. So let's tell both sides of the story.

As we age, most of us do experience some decline in specific cognitive functioning, like the ability to remember the name of that movie you saw with what's-her-name last week. But one thing I'm always pointing out to people is that younger people forget stuff too, all the time. This is not just an old-age affliction. Where ageism comes in is that when you can't remember the name of the movie, and you're my age, you think, oh, crap, that means I'm getting dementia. Which it might, but it really, really, really probably does not. It is true that older people can take longer to come to a conclusion about something, or perhaps remember something. But one reason this is so, and interestingly, this came out a study done by data scientists in Germany, who weren't even studying anything aging related, is that as we grow older, we acquire more experiences and memories. So literally, just like a processor, the brain has to sift through more information to get to an answer. And it is that process of sifting that enables us, often, older people, to come up with a more measured or deeper response. That's why it is so terrific to have mixed age teams. For many reasons that are intuitively obvious, younger people might come up with more answers more quickly, and possibly think of things that an older, more perhaps experienced person might think, oh, we tried that 10 years ago and it's not going to work. But if you pair the agility of a young mind with the experience and more seasoned approach of an older worker, you arrive at a synthesis that is the best possible thing. You can make an analogy in terms of physical activity as well. Older workers certainly physically move slower, no doubt about that. But they injure themselves less often.

A growing body of really, really interesting evidence shows how attitudes towards aging affect how our minds and bodies function at the cellular level. People with more positive attitudes towards aging, which I would say is simply more realistic attitudes towards aging, because most of us are so brainwashed to equate aging with decline, show that they walk faster, they have better handwriting, which is a pretty good indicator of general health. They heal faster, even from severe disability. They live longer, not just a little bit, an average of seven and a half years longer. And the latest research shows that positive attitudes towards aging confer protection against dementia, even in people genetically predisposed to the disease. The idea is that if you are not worrying about aging, if you are not under this stress of believing that everything is going to go to hell in a handbasket, and you are going to be conferred to the sort of dustbin of history, or abandoned by those you love, or abandoned by your brain, or deserted by your body, those are all sources of stress. They are messages that an ageist culture bombards us with on a daily basis, in the news, starting with children's books, all the way up. When we refute those messages, when we look at the purpose behind them, and look at the evidence all around us, at the lives that older people are living, it's very easy to see the alternate truthful reality. And that confers protection.

The earlier in life we become what I call an old person in training which is to acknowledge that, guess what, we're going to become old and it's probably going to be different than we think right now, and probably way better the better, because then we can see ageist messages in the culture more clearly and refute them. If we look around at the older people around us, it is obvious that the vast majority are living interesting lives and going about their daily lives with interest and purpose. I have never met anyone who actually wanted to be any younger, no matter how terrified they were of getting older. So think about that, right? Because even if we are brainwashed by an ageist culture, we know that our years are what make us us.

  • The best anti-aging advice? Stop stereotyping old people! Cultural messaging about the pitfalls of old age causes undue stress that prematurely ages the brain and shortens life spans.
  • People who have a positive outlook on aging can live 7.5 years longer than those who buy into cultural stereotypes about getting old.
  • It's important to look at the positives of aging, not just the risk factors: Alzheimer's rates are declining, 'mental sifting' can make us wiser, and older workers injure themselves less often than younger workers.

Big Think Edge
  • Push Past Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself the Proper Fuel to Attack the World, with David Goggins, Former NAVY SealIf you've ever spent 5 minutes trying to meditate, you know something most people don't realize: that our minds are filled, much of the time, with negative nonsense. Messaging from TV, from the news, from advertising, and from difficult daily interactions pulls us mentally in every direction, insisting that we focus on or worry about this or that. To start from a place of strength and stability, you need to quiet your mind and gain control. For former NAVY Seal David Goggins, this begins with recognizing all the negative self-messaging and committing to quieting the mind. It continues with replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.

Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Master Execution: How to Get from Point A to Point B in 7 Steps, with Rob Roy, Retired Navy SEALUsing the principles of SEAL training to forge better bosses, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Leadership Under Fire series Rob Roy, a self-described "Hammer", makes people's lives miserable in the hopes of teaching them how to be a tougher—and better—manager. "We offer something that you are not going to get from reading a book," says Roy. "Real leaders inspire, guide and give hope."Anybody can make a decision when everything is in their favor, but what happens in turbulent times? Roy teaches leaders, through intense experiences, that they can walk into any situation and come out ahead. In this lesson, he outlines seven SEAL-tested steps for executing any plan—even under extreme conditions or crisis situations.