Healthy Aging Myths: Physical Deterioration and Impairment are Inevitable

As a result of incredible technological and scientific advances, human life expectancy has now doubled. According to data from the World Health Organization, the proportion of the world’s population over the age of 60 is expected to double from 11% to around 22% by the year 2050. With an increasing aging population at hand, it is important for healthcare professionals to combat the many medical myths surrounding the biological aging process which may detrimentally affect patient longevity and well-being.

Myth: Physical Deterioration is Inevitable

One of these perpetuated myths is that physical deterioration with age is inevitable. Although as humans age, the body naturally experiences a degree of physical deterioration, it does not have to lead to complete impairment while the process itself can be slowed down.

As the WHO explain, “Increased physical activity and improving diet can effectively tackle many of the problems frequently associated with old age.” Including reduced strength, increased body fat, hypertension, and reduced bone density, these aging complications are not pre-determined and can be mitigated to encourage healthy aging.

Importance of Positive Expectations and Outlook 

Prior research has found that expecting physical deterioration increases the likelihood of it occurring; a study surveyed 148 older participants about their aging and health expectations to find that expectations played an important role in the adoption of physically active lifestyles.

Older adults who expected to endure fewer age-related health complications were reported to engage in higher levels of physical activity and viewed themselves as having higher levels of physical function. Ultimately, the study’s findings revealed that a more positive outlook influenced health outcomes, such as physical function.

Levels of physical activity have proven to be an important predictor of health in older adults; managing aging-related expectations may help patients improve lifestyle choices that will assist in maintaining physical health, fitness, and function in later life.

Furthermore, another past study found that older adults with low expectations regarding aging did not believe it was important to seek medical care, heightening their risk for adverse outcomes. On the other hand, trials have also reported that individuals with a positive self-perception of the aging process lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with more negative perceptions, highlighting the significant of outlook.

Developing Strategic Lifestyle Interventions

As the findings of the aforementioned trials reveal, there is a need for lifestyle interventions aimed at increasing physical activity levels in older patients that target both expectations and outlook as related to aging as well as exercise. Understanding how patient expectations relate to their health behaviors may help design appropriate interventions tailored to this demographic in particular. Furthermore, an increased awareness of the importance of aging-related expectations in older patients may help medical professionals screen and identify individuals at risk for depression or lack of engagement in healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Although it is a belief held by many patients regardless of age, the inevitability of physical deterioration and functional impairment remains a myth. With the help of strategic lifestyle interventions – including adequate physical activity, healthy dietary habits, and a positive outlook on the aging process – older individuals can help slow down the body’s natural decline and promote optimal function as they age.