By Valerie Minard
When German gymnast Johanna Quaas performs on the balance beam, vigor, strength, grace, and flexibility come to life. Johanna’s precision-like maneuvers, twists and jumps have earned her numerous awards and accolades. And in 2012, she was officially entered into the Guinness Book of World Records— as the “oldest gymnast in the world.” Three years later, at age 88 she is still practicing and perfecting her routine.
Contrary to the common belief that the “golden years” have to be accompanied by physical and mental decline, often attended by loneliness and depression, more and more people, like Johanna, are finding the opposite. She is one of a growing number of seniors who are thriving and living satisfying lives well into their later years. They are breaking some of the myths about aging.
Health researcher and Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy saw a connection between an individual’s beliefs about aging and their well being. For instance, she noticed that individuals who refused to be defined or limited by their calendar years could continue to experience vitality and productivity. Eddy, herself, lived past twice the life expectancy of her day and accomplished her greatest works in the last 40 years of her life.
These ideas are born out in research conducted by University of Kent, titled “Being old and ill,” from the European Social Survey. The study analyzed responses of people, across several countries, age 70 plus, comparing social status and their subjective age and health. Those people from societies where old age has a low social status, identified strongly with the negative connotations of old age and had worse subjective health. Likewise, people from countries where older people were more valued had healthier views about themselves irrespective of their age.
Another study by psychologist, Ellen Langer, compared memory of young and old Chinese and Americans. She found that “older Chinese people, who, it was hypothesized, were exposed to less ageism than their American counterparts, performed memory tests more like their younger compatriots. Among the Americans, on the other hand, there were significant memory differences between the old and young.”
Both studies suggest that the beliefs we entertain about aging are taught by society and tend to be self-filling. This underlines the importance of rejecting society’s negative beliefs about aging.
In addition, it’s valuable to gain a spiritual sense of health and well-being.
That’s what Margaret Pinkham did when she found herself experiencing one of the most common, and increasing, maladies associated with aging. At one point she started to forget things and realized it was related to her beliefs about aging. Instead of accepting memory loss as inevitable, she prayed and was inspired by something Eddy wrote, “Know, then, that you possess sovereign power to think and act rightly, and that nothing can dispossess you of this heritage and trespass on Love [God]”. Margaret reasoned that if God gave her the ability to think and remember, no one or thing could take it away. She continued to pray along these lines and her memory was restored.
While not everyone can hold their own on a balance beam like Johanna Quaas, both her’s and Margaret Pinkham’s example show how resisting age-related limitation benefits health and wellbeing. Instead of giving in to myths about blight and decrepitude, try discovering how a spiritual perspective can improve your health. You can claim your divine heritage to “think and act rightly.”
Valerie is writes regularly about the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and also the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in New Jersey. Follow her blog at: New Jersey a garden state of mind.