Exploring the link between mental outlook and how you age

You may have heard of the Blue Zone, regions of the world identified by the National Geographic magazine, where people seemed to live longer than average and have the highest percentage on centenarians. This is attributed to nine lifestyle factors, sometimes referred to as 'The Power 9' that were found to be commonplace across these regions.

Amongst the nine lifestyle factors, there are some key indicators that mental health and mental outlook are an integral part of our health. These include a sense of purpose and belonging, putting their families and loved ones first, supportive and healthy social circles and stress management practices.

Mental health has a huge impact on your health and wellbeing but can easily be neglected when trying to navigate day to day priorities and responsibilities. 

There is truth to the saying that you are only as old as you feel.  The way you age is impacted by the way you perceive ageing, as this effects physical and mental health. A positive attitude towards ageing can inspire a higher self-rating of health and satisfaction with life. On the other hand, a negative view of aging can lead to reduced physical health, mood, and sense of wellbeing[1].

 

So how do we develop a positive mental outlook? 

1. Connect with family and friends often

Social relationships and social support have been associated with a greater sense of wellbeing. Conversely, feeling isolated and lonely can lead to a negative outlook and poorer health outcomes. A 2021 study found that mental health as we age could be improved by reduced social isolation and thus improved attitudes towards ageing[1].

Stay connected by picking up the phone, going for a walk or engaging in sport or hobby groups. Our furry friends have also been shown to help us to feel less alone, and we are seeing initiatives such as animal visiting programmes in residential care homes to improve mental wellbeing.

2. Keep a gratitude journal

Taking the time each day to find three things (or even one thing) that you are grateful for can create a shift in our thinking, helping us to put a positive spin on the curve balls that life can throw at us. 

3. Find a cause

Whether it's animals, helping out at an age-care facility or planting trees, giving up your time for a greater cause and doing something selfless makes you feel good and can help provide a sense of purpose. 

4. Don't sweat the small stuff

It's not uncommon for centenarians to state that one of the secrets to living a long life is not to let the small things get to you. This trick makes sense when you consider the amount of stress that can be avoided if it is put into practice. Mindfulness exercises are one tool to help ground yourself if this is something you would personally like to work on. 

 

5. Priorities your mental wellbeing

  • Regular movement – regular movement and exercise has many health benefits, including improved mental wellbeing. Sedentary lifestyles are known to increase the risk to mental wellbeing.  If you are not sure where to start to increase your activity levels, don’t forget that any movement counts – gardening, household chores, walking to the shops are all included. Picking an activity you enjoy increases your chances of sticking to a new exercise regime.
  • Spend time in nature – there are so many benefits to spending time in the great outdoors.  In terms of mental outlook, spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve mood, give you time out to feel relaxed and improve confidence and self-esteem.  Spending time in nature can be as simple as a walk on the beach, sitting in the garden having a cup of tea, doing some gardening or going for a bush walk.
  • Get enough sleep - Lack of sleep disrupts our circadian rhythms, causing a negative impact on behaviours and mood. It has been linked to increased anger, anxiety, depressed mood and negative affect and/or decreased positive mood. If sleep is an issue for you, head over to our blog for some tips on how you can improve it: How does sleep impact the way you age?
  • Manage stress levels – stress can contribute to many health conditions and excess stress is well known to impact mental health.  Learning stress management techniques helps us better respond to different circumstances that arise in our lives. There are so many options

 

Suzy Walsh 

BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ 

Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist

 

References:

[1] Cheng, X., Cosco, T. D., & Ariyo, T. (2021). Decreasing social isolation to enhance mental health among older adults in China: A mediation analysis of aging attitude. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.735740