Happy New Year from The Age-Well Project! We hope that you’re looking at the year, and the decade, ahead with optimism. Optimism is a great tool for health and happiness. Research published last summer assessed the optimism levels of almost 70,000 people in the US. It found that the most optimistic individuals lived between 11 and 15% longer and had a 50-70% greater chance of reaching 85 years old than the least optimistic.
It’s unclear how exactly optimism helps people live longer. “Other research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behaviour as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively,” the report’s senior author said.
The researchers also consider that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits, and are more likely to engage in exercise and less likely to smoke. These behaviours could extend both lifespan and healthspan, the term applied to the number of years in which we are healthy and active. We always say that our goal with our Age-Well Project is to stay healthy for as long as possible, and reduce our risk frailty and illness, rather than live as long as possible.
HOW TO STICK TO A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
Did you make a New Year’s resolution which will help extend your healthspan? It might be more exercise, better sleep, more whole foods in your diet or greater social engagement. However you’ve framed it, you want to stick to it. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that people are most likely to stick to resolutions if they use:
- stimulus control – keeping reminders of why you want to achieve your resolution around you. This was the most powerful aid for the New Year’s ‘resolvers’ tracked in the study.
- more willpower – so hard to muster but it’s about developing the ‘grit’ that defines all superagers
- reinforcement management – rewarding yourself for small victories so you have something to look forward to
- positive thinking – believing that you can make that change
- avoidance strategies – not putting yourself in a situation where you’d be tempted to slip off the wagon
INCREASING BRAIN HEALTH AND HAPPINESS IN 2020…..
One of my resolutions for the year ahead is to fit in more yoga. Research published last month linked the practice to increased brain health, as well as flexibility. A review of 11 studies found that yoga may keep the brain healthy, boost memory and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The researchers saw an increase in the size of the hippocampus, which is linked to memory, in regular yoga practitioners as well as beneficial brain changes in the amygdala, which regulates emotions and boosts happiness. As we age, these two brain regions shrink, eventually leading to cognitive decline.
The research team didn’t identify exactly how yoga benefits the brain. But they believe it may be linked to the reduction in stress which comes from a regular yoga practice. They found that people who did yoga for eight weeks had a lower cortisol response to stress, and performed better on decision-making and attention tests. ‘The practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression,’ the lead researcher said. ‘And that seems to improve brain functioning.’
If I can’t get to a yoga class, and they are rather time consuming, I use a free app called Yoga Sun Salutation which is very straightforward. There are millions of great yoga videos on YouTube too – I like Yoga with Adriene.
SEEKING JOY THIS YEAR
We should all resolve to have more fun in 2020. We tend to see happiness as something that occurs occasionally, not as a habitual state. This uplifting article is packed with advice on seeking out, and keeping hold of, joy in the year ahead. And let us know in the comments below how you find joy – it might be gazing at the sunset, spending time with friends or reading a good book. Anything goes!
Here at The Age-Well Project we’ve got lots to look forward to this year. Our second Guardian masterclass, Preparing For A Longer, Healthier, Happier Life, is on Tuesday January 7th. There may be a few tickets left – click here for details.
I’m working on a follow-up to our book, which will be out in September, titled The Age-Well Plan. I’m also putting together new workshops and coaching programmes for later in the Spring when I’ve finished the book, so stay tuned for those! In the meantime, I’m coaching one-to-one clients, offering simple solutions to people over 45 who want to get their health on track so they can Age Well. If you’d like to know more, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
And Annabel’s walking the world as she researches her next book on women artists and how walking changed their lives and their work.
FAVOURITE RE-SET RECIPES
After what felt like weeks of overindulgence during the festive season, I’m seeking out recipes which are comforting, nourishing and healthy. I’m making lots of soups – I posted a pic of a celeriac, parsnip and chestnut one on our Instagram feed a couple of days ago (do follow us on social media for the latest on how we’re cooking, moving and thinking to Age Well). And there are some terrific recipes on the blog to help us reset after the feasting. These are a few favourites: