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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast, I want to discuss the question: Does how we think, affect how we age?
But first let me ask you a question: At what age does a person officially become old?
So what age did you pick?
A recent survey of 2,000 Americans commissioned by LetsGetChecked asked that very question.
This survey concluded that you are officially old when you turn 57. When I read the number I was absolutely shocked and also concerned because if we think we are old at just 57, could this potentially impact our aging process?
As well, they provided some top indicators that you have officially reached old age.
- 39% listed an increased concern about health.
- 36% said more wrinkles.
- 35% listed grey hair
- And perhaps what was most disturbing is that 34% said hair loss. Good grief I was losing hair by the time I was 30.
But in England, a similar survey of 2,000 Brits also commissioned by LetsGetChecked gave you an additional four years before you officially turned old. They didn’t think a person turned old until you were 61 years-of-age and like the American survey the chief indicator was concerns about health.
Though this was slightly better than the Americans, Caleb would have laughed even at the Brit’s number.
I believe God wants Christians to think differently about aging.
So while the respondents to these two surveys focussed primarily on the physical aspects of aging, in this podcast, I want to discuss the mental aspects of aging and the profound impact thinking can have on the aging process.
An article published in Medical News Today, entitled You’re Only as Old as You Feel! with the byline, “How our attitudes to ageing can have a direct effect on our health,” reported on a study conducted by Dublin’s Trinity College.
Researchers discovered a person’s negative attitudes towards aging can have a dramatic impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being.
The author’s noted:
“Older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speed and worse cognitive abilities two years later, compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards ageing.”
Not only did negative thinking result in a noticeable physical and mental decline, but here’s the key point it took just two years for this decline to show up. Just two years and there was already a noticeable deterioration.
It tells you that attitude is important.
Now, there is an often cited verse from the Book of Proverbs that talks about the profound impact thinking can have in our life. However, there is one element of this verse that is often glossed over:
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7a NKJV)
This verse seems to imply, that we become what we think, but we are missing one key element here.
It says specifically as we think in our heart. “In our heart” is deeper than thinking, it involves what we truly believe about ourselves. It’s the secret stuff that we are probably not telling other people.
It is one thing to acknowledge something is true in your mind, but it is an entirely different matter to believe it’s true, because this additional step changes your life.
So let me ask you a question: Do you feel older, younger or the same as your actual physical age? And secondly is this important?
Well it might be, because researchers at the University of Seoul in South Korea discovered that our perception of how old we are might actually translate into real life.
According to an article in the Daily Mail entitled Brains Are Only as Old as You Feel, the research team asked 68 people between the ages of 59 to 84 if they felt older, younger or the same as their real physical age.
Then after conducting MRI scans of the test groups’ brains, they discovered that the brains of those who felt older than their actual age had less grey matter than those who felt younger than their actual age.
Grey matter is vital component of a healthy brain. The more you have the healthier you are mentally.
In contrast, those who felt younger had more grey matter and did better on memory tests – this included recalling details from stories told 15 to 30 minutes earlier.
The researchers said this suggested one of two things. Perhaps the people who felt older than their age were simply picking up on the physical decline that was taking place in their brains.
But then they posed a second alternative. Is it possible that people who felt younger were actually impacting the health of their brain? They were not caving into aging or aged thinking. They were continuing to remain active both physically and mentally and this was having a positive impact on their brains and physical health.
In other words, what they believed affected their physical well-being.
And this seemed to be confirmed by a study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in England. The researchers interviewed 29 elderly people asking them a series of questions on “aging and frailty.”
In their study entitled, Thinking you are old and frail, they discovered that the more people thought of themselves as being old and frail, the more they acted out this perception in real life.
People who thought they were old and frail increasingly disengaged themselves from social and physical activities and ironically, in many cases these were very activities that would reduce their frailty.
Quoting one of the participants in their study, the researchers summed up their findings with these words:
“If people think they are old and frail, they will act like they are old and frail.”
In other words as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
Caleb was 85 years old when Israel entered the Promised Land under Joshua.
Forty-five years earlier, he was one of the 12 spies who Moses sent in to spy out the Promised Land.
Two spies, Caleb and Joshua, came back with a good report stating that Israel could easily conquer the inhabitants.
But because the ten other spies gave a negative report filled with fear and unbelief, the Israelis refused to enter the Promised Land and were forced to roam around the wilderness for 45 years until the unbelieving generation died off. Of that older generation, only Caleb and Joshua remained.
Now 85, Caleb was ready to claim his territory and turned to Joshua with these words:
“So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.” (Joshua 14:10-12 NIV)
Though Caleb was actually 85 years old, he felt like he was still 40 when he first spied out the Promised Land under Moses. He felt younger mentally than his actual age. Now I imagine his sons probably smiled and rolled their eyes when Caleb said that because undoubtedly roaming around the desert for 45 years took its toll.
Caleb was not the same man physically as he was when he was 40.
But that didn’t matter because mentally Caleb believed he was younger and because of this, at 85, he was still ready to take on the world and all its challenges.
I remember a statement that Jordan Peterson, the famed University of Toronto psychologist, made when he gave advice to people with elderly parents. He said don’t do anything for your elderly parents that they can do themselves. So often we are tempted to do things for them that they are completely capable of doing. This is not good for the elderly because it perpetuates the notion that they are getting old and frail.
Four years back, I read a story about Dick Van Dyck a major TV and movie personality from the 60s and 70s. He was 90 years old at the time and still very active and still singing professionally in a musical group.
In an interview with Good Day LA, Van Dyck explained the reason why he was still going strong at 90 years of age. He said:
“I feel about 50 really [then pointing to his head he said] I think most of its up here.”
Van Dyck even wrote a book about his outlook on life called Keep Moving and then added that he originally wanted to entitle the book What To Do While Circling the Drain, but added no one has a sense of humour anymore.
Caleb, 85, felt like he was 40, Dick Van Dyck then 90, felt like he was 50 and both were climbing mountains in their old age.
We need to control our thinking, because negative thinking can age you. Yes, our bodies may be failing, but we can’t focus on that.
God has purpose and plan for your life, even in old age. You need to believe and focus on that.
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he!
Attitude to Aging Impacts Everything About Aging: Psychology Today