**Exploring the Health Effects of Ageism**
**Through more than three decades of research, the Yale psychologist Becca Levy has demonstrated that age discrimination can take years off one’s life.**
**By Paula Span, The New York Times, April 23, 2022**
**A psychologist and epidemiologist, Dr. Levy has demonstrated — in more than 140 published articles over 30 years and in a new book, “Breaking the Age Code” — that ageism results in more than hurt feelings or even discriminatory behavior. It affects physical and cognitive health and well-being in measurable ways and can take years off one’s life...**
**Her 2002 longevity study for two decades followed hundreds of residents older than 50 in a small Ohio town. The study found that median survival was seven and a half years longer for those with the most positive beliefs about aging, compared with those having the most negative attitudes...**
**Dr. Levy and her colleagues estimate that age discrimination, negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging lead to $63 billion in excess annual spending on common health conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes and injuries....** [end quote]
I have personal experience of this.
At the local YMCA, a yoga teacher taught a class called “Rejuvenate,” a very slow class with seniors seated in chairs and moving through a range of motion. I didn’t join this class since I felt that the members had one foot in the grave.
The yoga teacher left. The class was taken over by one of my favorite fitness instructors, Shelley, a super high energy Native American woman. About that time, I developed a serious ankle problem (Posterior Tibial Tendon Disorder) so I was forced to work out in a chair. This ankle problem lasted about a year.
When Shelley took over the Rejuvenate class, the elderly class members could barely hobble around. (The oldest was 92. He worked out 3 times a week until his death at age 93, quick and sudden.) Little by little, Shelley introduced light hand weights into the class. Then she suggested that the class members stand and march in place a little. Over a period of weeks, she introduced more vigorous standing exercises, always giving alternate instructions for seated and standing. (No pressure.)
As the months passed, the people in the class participated more and more in vigorous exercising. The weights got heavier. The movements got faster. It was absolutely amazing to see the progress of these old people who were now totally enthusiastic about their vigorous workouts. More people joined until the class (held in the basketball court) was packed and ran out of chairs. The original class members were now exercising without chairs for the most part since they had become strong enough to work out on their feet. Many of the people from Shelley’s class (including me) still work out with Shelley over Zoom. The oldest is a 92 year old woman.
On the other hand, I experienced the debilitating effect of ageism. I was at a meeting when a woman who was a professional caregiver noticed me limping and having a problem with stairs due to my painful ankle. Realizing that I am elderly, she kindly and solicitously put her arm around me and assisted me down the steps, with the sweet, high-pitched voice that one would use with a toddler. I felt strangely willing to act feeble so she could help me, although actually I worked out with weights 4 days a week and can do an hour of Zumba without losing my breath. It was almost like the experience of King Theoden in “Lord of the Rings.”
The new research on ageism shows that our state of mind has incredible power to strengthen or weaken us. If we have a stereotype that elderly people can be strong, wise and active we can live years longer than if we have a stereotype of elderly people as feeble, frail and demented. Of course, we will be much more likely to take concrete actions toward maintaining our health if we believe that we will succeed.
This has incredible Macroeconomic impact. The cost of taking care of frail elders is much higher than the cost of strong, competent elders taking care of themselves.
I recommend El Doco Loco Dance Studio. “El Doco Loco” is the nom de danse of Dr. Raymond Poliquat, whose studio gives 4 Zoom Zumba classes, 7 days a week, supported by Blue Cross. Get on his e-mail list for Zoom links. These are really good classes.
See you on the dance floor!