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The Selwyn Institute

In the spirit of ageing well

Don’t fall for these myths about growing older

Ageing may be a chronological state of measurement whereas elderhood is a state of mind related to being actively and positively alive. 

The distinction is important according to Canadian health, fitness and wellbeing authority Jeff Rooney. 

He’s found that those living to a very old age, as in centenarians, have helped to dispel myths, isolate problem areas to understand and manage and, most importantly, helpful behaviours to enjoy the ageing experience.

In addition to his own insights and experiences Rooney he has focussed on the work of Dr Mario E Martinez, a clinical neuropsychologist.  An expert in the field, Martinez is particularly mindful of the influence cultural contexts have on the process of health, illness and ageing. 

Cultures that support growing older as a positive development associated with increased wisdom, and abilities, have higher numbers of centenarians living healthier lives versus those who view ageing as a process of inevitable deterioration. 

Debunking the myths

Contrary to what might be popular, or even unpopular, belief none of the following hold true according to both Jeff Rooney and Mario Martinez.

  • Genetics determine longevity.
  • Vegans live longer (there are NO vegan centenarians).
  • Vegetarians live longer (there are only a few).
  • Alzheimer’s is inevitable.
  • Teetotalers and non-smokers live longer (moderate use of alcohol and tobacco is the way).
  • Anger should be avoided (expression of emotions rather than bottling up is better).
  • You’ll die of cancer if you live long enough (most don’t die of prolonged illness).
  • Aging means a deteriorating mind (mind and brain are quite different and you can stay sharp even if your brain wouldn’t hold up well under an autopsy).
  • Socio-economic factors determine lifespan.
  • Failing capacities are inevitable.

Removing the road blocks

The elderhood journey may have a few bumps along the way.  Here are some to look out for and ideally avoid. 

  • Withholding joy.
  • Fear-based assumptions.
  • Atheism (there are no atheists but rather those holding a belief in something transcendent such as a benign spirit. Centenarians tend to be spiritual more than religious). 
  • Lamenting and complaining.
  • Your belief in cultural attitudes will kill you before your genes do.
Accentuating the positive

This sagely advice and wisdom from the aged is not just the territory of elderhood.  Putting these ideas and attitudes into action as early as possible can only be beneficial for ageing well. 

Again, these are the common winning ways of those living to a very old age.

  • Consciousness, awareness and ceremony or personal rituals (as opposed to addictive and avoidant behaviors) are more effective.
  • Negotiate rather than have blind faith in authorities; most don’t see doctors and outlive their medical advisors.
  • An absence of envy.
  • Not future-oriented.
  • Optimistic about future and plans – based in joy.
  • Ageless identification and self-regulation; at peace with themselves.
  • Forgiveness at mind-body level.
  • Feel in control of their lives and are committed to their community.
  • Feel they have something to offer: connection brings meaning.
  • Fearless about challenges.
  • Expect to be loved.
  • Self-determined (where do you put the control).
  • Self-esteem, confidence, valuing the self.
  • Be rebellious.
  • Strive for balance versus obsession.
  • Resilience, optimism are good stress buffers; it isn’t stress but how one responds.