2013 Jan./Feb.

PDF version of the 2013 Jan./Feb. Positive Aging Newsletter to download:  Issue 78 Jan./Feb. 2013


January/February, 2013

Issue No 78

The Positive Aging Newsletter by Kenneth and Mary Gergen,
dedicated to productive dialogue between research and practice. Sponsored by the Taos Institute (www.taosinstitute.net).
- Wall Street Journal


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Issue No 78
January/February 2013


Renewing the Vision
Periodically we like to renew again the central mission of this newsletter, thus clarifying what you may anticipate and how you may participate as readers. Since its inception, the readership of the newsletter has expanded at a rapid rate - now reaching thousands of subscribers in six languages. Our readers include, among others, gerontologists, health related researchers, therapeutic practitioners, service providers for the elderly, and, probably most prominently, interested laypersons. Many new readers of the newsletter may be curious about the orientation guiding the selection of content. Our primary aim is to bring to light resources - from research, news sources, and daily life - that contribute to an appreciation of the aging process. Challenging the longstanding view of aging as decline, we strive to create a vision of life in which aging is an unprecedented period of human enrichment. Such a revolution vitally depends on the communities of research and professional practices that focus on adult populations, especially people over 50. It is within these communities that new ideas, insights, factual support, and practices of growth enhancement can congenially emerge. By focusing on the developmental aspects of aging, and the availability of relevant resources, skills, and resiliencies, research not only brings useful insights into the realm of practice, but creates hope and empowers action among older people.

By moving beyond practices of repair and prevention, to emphasize growth-enhancing activities, practitioners also contribute to the societal reconstruction of aging. Reader contributions to the Newsletter are most welcome. If you have writings, insights, or practices that you feel would be especially interesting to subscribers of the Newsletter, you are invited to share them in future issues. We also review selected books and films, and carry announcements of relevant conferences and workshops. Please send your suggestions to Mary Gergen at [email protected] Past issues of the Newsletter – both English and non-English versions - are archived at: www.positiveaging.net

To reintroduce ourselves, Kenneth Gergen is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College, and Mary is a Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women's Studies at Penn State University, Brandywine. Ken and Mary are both on the Executive Board of the Taos Institute, a non-profit organization working at the intersection of social constructionist theory and societal practice. Each has a long history of engagement with gerontological inquiry and therapeutic practice. We hope you will join us in the present endeavor.

Ken and Mary Gergen


The Benefits of Openess to Experience

As early research suggests, there is a tendency among many people to reduce their range of interests as they grow older. It is simply easier to simplify life, to do what is comfortable, and to pay attention to immediate life concerns. However, as recent research indicates, there may be significant costs in closing down the range of interests.

A sample of people between the ages of 70 and 79, living in Pittsburgh and Memphis, were measured on a variety of variables related to health: Personality traits, body composition, health conditions and functional limitations, etc. The major question of interest was what might predict to difficulties in walking over time, and what might insulate people from this problem? During the six-year study, 20% of the sample developed difficulties with walking. Most prominently, people who were more depressed and less educated were more likely to have difficulties. More interesting, however, a major predictor of disability was a score on a personality variable called “openness to experience.” The more “open” to experience on this measure, the lower the risk of having walking limitations. In still other research, openness to experience has also been correlated with slower disease progression and reduced risk of mortality.

Explanations for why being open is healthy also remain open. Being open may encourage curiosity, and thus the learning of information that may directly contribute to health (eg. diet, exercise) or indirectly through suggesting new activities, or sources of pleasure, and by inviting an optimistic attitude. And too, being open may simply increased brain activity. All of these things may have an impact on one’s physical well-being.
From: Personality and Reduced Incidence of Walking Limitation in Late life: Findings from the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study by Magdalena I. Tolea, et al., The Journals of Gerontology, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67B, 2012, pp.712-719.

Love Lives after 50: More and Less
Over 8,000 people over 50 filled out a survey asking them about romantic behaviors they may or may not engage in.

Here are some of the highlights of the study:
“Do you kiss or hug your partner in public?”
Among the happiest couples, 73% indulge in public displays of affection at least a couple of times a month. Not so happy couples are much less likely to do this.

“Do you hold hands, at least sometimes?”
Over three/fourths of couples do hold hands, but younger couples are more likely to do so. Only 50% of couples who have been together at least 10 years hold hands.

“Do you say ‘I love you’ to your partner?”
Among the happiest couples, 85% say this at least once a week. More than 90% of men tell their partners regularly, while only 58% of women do the same.

“Do you feel your partner loves you more now than when you first were married or started living together?”
40% say yes; 44% say about the same; and 16% say less.

“Do you exchange passionate kisses with your partner?”
74% of the happiest couples exchange passionate kisses at least once a week.

“Does your partner fulfill your needs?”
Slightly over half of the sample said “no.” About ¼ of the men say they aren’t having enough sex; About ¼ of women say they don’t have the lifestyle they had hoped for. About 15-20% of the sample want more affection.

“Do you have date nights?”
Among the happiest couples, 88% plan time alone together.

“How frequently do you make love?”
Almost 1/3 of the couples have sex several times a week; 28% have sex a couple times a month; 8% have sex once a month. 33% of the respondents say they rarely or never have sex. Among couples who report that they are extremely happy, ¼ rarely or never have sex. Clearly sexual activity is not required for couples to have a very happy life together. As one sex therapist has said, “Sex should be considered a hobby, not a necessity.”

The researchers concluded that engaging in romantic behaviors, such as holding hands, public expressions of affection, date nights, and saying “I love you” can help to bring a bit of magic back into a relationship that might otherwise be a bit ho-hum. Positive aging is all about that.

If you would like to fill out the survey, go to aarp.org/normalbarsurvey
From: Sex at 50+: What’s Normal by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, & James White. AARP The Magazine, Feb/March, 2013, pp. 44-47


Ten Fun Ways to Improve Your Health

Let’s forget about dieting, exercise, and abstinence, and, instead, focus on ways to enjoy life while enhancing health.

Here are 10 tips:

  1. Throw a Party. People with a consistent and active social life are less likely to experience a decline in reasoning and remembering. Social activity also helps preserve your ability to engage in everyday tasks.
  2. Adopt a Pet. People with pets have healthier hearts and make fewer visits to the doctor. Pet owners are more physically fit (taking the dog for a walk), and less fearful and lonely. Pets are always there when you need them.
  3. Choose Chocolate. Chocolate helps lower blood pressure, improves blood flow to the brain and heart, and helps protect against heart attacks and strokes. Dark chocolate with 70% cacao is best.
  4. Savor your Coffee. It does lots of good things for your body.
  5. Raise a Glass of Wine or Beer. Enjoy in moderation.
  6. Have Sex. Sexual activity releases feel-good endorphins, which reduce anxiety and act as a painkiller. Sex bolsters the immune system and staves off depression.
  7. Listen to your Favorite Music. Music is good for blood flow, sound sleep, good moods, and less pain.
  8. Take a Nap. Naps improve mood, memory, alertness and learning. Both short and long naps do good things for the body.
  9. Go au Naturel. Not literally, perhaps, but spend time outdoors, in natural settings. Green is good, even five minutes a day in nature can boost your mood and sense of well-being.
  10. Be Free. Set aside some time each week to do exactly what you want to do. Whatever. An enjoyable life is often a long and healthy one.

From: 10 Tips for Better Health by Nissa Simon. AARP Bulletin, Jan.-Feb. , 2013, pg. 10, 12,14

Exercising in the Out-of-doors
Although fitness centers have enjoyed enormous popularity in recent years, a growing body of evidence suggests that, if you have the opportunity, out-door exercise may be a better route to health. A number of small studies have found, for example, that people have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, after exercising outside as compared to inside. Exposure to direct sunlight may also affect moods. Across many different studies, participants have also said they enjoyed exercising more outside, and after a good walk outside they scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self esteem; and lower on tension, depression and fatigue.
It is also possible that because outdoor exercise is more enjoyable, it is more inviting and encouraging. A study last year found that older adults who exercised outside exercised longer and more often than those working out indoors. Researchers asked men and women 66 or older about their exercise habits and then fitted them all with electronic gadgets that measured their activity levels for a week. The gadgets and the survey showed that the volunteers who exercised outside, usually by walking, were significantly more physically active than those who exercised indoors, completing, on average, about 30 minutes more exercise each week than those who walked or otherwise exercised indoors.

So take a deep breathe and head for the hills.
From: Baby its Cold Outside by Gretchen Reynolds. New York Times Magazine, Feb. 24, 2013, pg. 16.

Live Longer and Better: A Quiz
How do you answer these multiple choice questions from this quiz?
Each of the answers is backed up by scientific research on the topic.

Which of these is most likely to improve your memory after age 50?
a. Solving word puzzles?
b. Going on regular walks
c. taking ginkgo biloba supplements?
Answer: b. Walking is even better than puzzles. Supplements aren’t effective.

What’s the best treatment for creaky, arthritic knees?
a. Sitting down
b. Taking glucosamine supplements
c. Doing tai chi
d. Taking shark cartilage pills
Answer: c. tai chi, an exercise program that is famous for flowing stretches and poses; exercises control pain and improve function.

Which of these two habits could shave the most time off your life?
a. Watching TV
b. Smoking
Answer: Surprise! Every hour watching TV can cut 22 minutes from one’s life span; Smoking a cigarette reduces life span by about 11 minutes. (Don’t smoke while watching TV. That’s a double whammy).

If you are 45 and have lived an “unhealthy life” so far, you might as well forget changing now. (True or false)
Answer: False. It’s never to late to begin, even if it is just walking a few times a week.

If you are physically active and sociable, you can expect to add how many years to your life span?
a. 0.8
b. 1.5
c. 3.6
d. 5.
Answer: d. Research on people 75 and older who were physically active and sociable lived 5 years longer than people who were isolated and sedentary.
From: Live Longer & Better by Gretchen Reynolds, Parade Magazine, January 27, 2013, pgs. 10-11.


The Encore Career Handbook
If you’re among the 31 million people who are thinking about an encore career – a second act for the greater good – there is a new guide for getting there. The Encore Career Handbook, which the Associated Press called an “invaluable resource,” can help you find an encore that best suits you. Thinking of going back to school? Wondering about how to network? Want to know who’s hiring? The Encore Career Handbook, which debuted in January, can show you the way.

Spiritual Resources on Aging for Individuals, Professionals, and Communities. Wonderful website with writings and music by Rabbi Dayle Friedman.

A website created to help people talk about their wishes for a good death. Retired columnist, Ellen Goodman, is encouraging people to share their thoughts and wishes with family members so that dying is not a silent, forbidden subject, but rather an important and focal one in our lives. Because people don’t have these conversations, certain things happen or don’t happen. For example, 70% of people say they’d like to die at home; yet, 70% of people die in hospitals, nursing homes or hospices.

We also recommend a book that has the same objective - Healing Conversations Now: Enhancing Relationships with Elders and Dying Loved Ones by Joan Chadbourne & Tony Silbert, A Taos Institute Publication (find it at www.TaosInstitute.net)


Roxanne Friedenfels, PhD, teaching at Drew University, writes:
Hi to everyone at Taos Institute, I thought some of you might enjoy the article (below) that I recently published in Rain and Thunder magazine. With best wishes,

Ageism: Ten Ways to Fight It
We live in an ageist culture. Women (much more than men) regularly face ageist expectations and comments....But how do we even start to fight against ageism? Here are ten ways to begin.

  1. Never greet another woman by saying, “You haven’t changed a bit!” That suggests that women’s appearance shouldn’t change, at least not once they reach age 30 or so. The comment is never true anyway; we all change physically as we age. This ageist comment puts pressure on women to spend a significant amount of time and money on “looking younger,” and makes it harder for us to accept our aging faces and bodies.
  2. Similarly, don’t greet other women with comments about their weight. Don’t say, for example, “You look great! So slim!” These supposedly “positive” comments are ageist, since women generally gain weight with age. We are NOT our weight. Some pre-adolescents may be naturally skinny, but for many adult women, being skinny is the result of cigarette smoking, dieting (the results are generally temporary), or illness, including bulimia and anorexia.
  3. Following from the above, it can be anti-ageist to compliment women on their changing appearance. You might say, for example, “You have such wonderful gray hair” or “Fifty (sixty, seventy, or more) becomes you! You look terrific!” (Not everyone will be able to accept this type of compliment, however, so be judicious with this kind of praise.)
  4. Boycott products that are advertised in an ageist way and don’t buy products from companies that discriminate against older people. On the occasions when older models are portrayed in ads in a way that is positive rather than demeaning, send a thank you note to the company.
  5. Build close, positive relationships. Work, paid or not, becomes less important to most of us as we age, and relationships with family and friends become more important. Cultivating relationships is a way of preparing for being old.
  6. Expanding on point #5, be open to friendships with women of all ages, including women who are older or younger than you. Don’t let age be a barrier to friendship.
  7. Read and watch age positive literature, TV shows, and films. Ignore and/or protest age negative media. If something that’s supposed to be “entertaining” makes you feel bad about aging, and/or is demeaning to middle aged or old women, don’t expose yourself to it. Then take the next step, and contact the publisher or producer to tell them that you are boycotting the material. Explain why you think the material is ageist.
  8. Don’t avoid giving your age. Your age is not something to be ashamed of! (Although there may be an occasional good reason for not sharing your age. For example, getting some jobs may depend on the employer not knowing your exact age.) But, as much as possible, embrace your age and be proud of your knowledge and wisdom. We would not be who we are if we hadn’t lived for as long as we have!
  9. Calm your fears of aging by becoming informed about happiness and aging. Most people do not become less happy as they age; they become happier and more satisfied with life. For more information on this topic, see http://www.ted.com/talks/laura_carstensen_older_people_are_happier.html.
  10. Don’t agonize about age, organize! ...You are never too young or too old to work against ageism. As Maggie Kuhn, co-founder of the social justice (and anti-ageist) group, the Gray Panthers, said: “We may not be able to butter our bread, but we can change the World.”


April 20-21, 2013: Gerontological Society of America and Beijing National University co-sponsoring an international conference, “The Sino-US Forum on Psychology of Aging.” Beijing, China. See www.geron.org/images/chineseforum2013CFA.pdf

November 20-24, 2013: Gerontological Society of American Annual Scientific Meeting:; Optimal Aging Through Research. New Orleans.

Information for Readers

Questions & Feedback
If you have any questions, or material you'd like to share with other newsletter readers, please e-mail Mary Gergen at [email protected]

Past issues Past issues of the newsletter are archived at: www.positiveaging.net

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We hope that you enjoy The Positive Aging Newsletter.