What’s the secret to living longer? Plenty of important advice points to maintaining the right diet and exercise regimen as you age. While those are definitely important factors for longevity, it turns out that the easiest way to live longer may be to visualize yourself doing just that.
How can visualization predict how you’ll age?
Visualization is the process of mentally mapping out a situation or scenario in your head and playing it out however you wish. We can visualize good things happening to us as well as bad ones.
Previous research has found that when people visualize future outcomes, they have some power to alter them in reality. In fact, when it comes to your body and your mind, self-perception can affect everything from memory capabilities and cardiovascular health to the number of hospitalizations you undergo and even your mortality.
When you think about it, the power of visualization makes sense: If you picture yourself succeeding in some area of your life and truly believe that you can do it in reality, you’re more likely to figure out how to achieve that success in your actual life.
What did the research show?
A recent study published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development from Oregon State University found that when people in middle age believed that they would be healthy decades down the line, they were more likely to experience those outcomes in the future.
For the study, researchers examined 244 middle-aged and older participants’ optimism and their self-efficacy, which is their perceived ability to visualize the person they want to become and then work towards becoming that person. They also surveyed participants’ own views on aging in general to see if they viewed the process positivity or negatively.
The results showed that people who were more optimistic in their general lives tended to extend that positivity to their future selves, including what they saw themselves doing at an older age. Plus, when participants had hopeful views of aging when they were around 50, they lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those with pessimistic views.
Researchers also found that there are many ageist stereotypes that people contend with as they get older, and the sooner they find a way to set aside those clichés and live their lives the way they want, the better they are in the long run.
“People need to realize that some of the negative health consequences in later life might not be biologically driven. The mind and the body are all interwoven,” explained Karen Hooker, a co-author of the study and a gerontology and family studies professor at Oregon State. “If you believe these bad things are going to happen, over time that can erode people’s willingness or maybe even eventually their ability to engage in those health behaviors that are going to keep them as healthy as they can be.”
At the end of the day, you can’t stop what other people are going to say about aging, but you can change how you feel about it for yourself.