Reverse Aging: Easier Than You Think
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Langer defines mindfulness not in the Buddhist sense of meditation and detachment, but rather as being aware enough to notice subtle changes in ourselves and in our environment. The health implications of such alertness are obvious: If we notice small shifts in how we feel, we can address problems before they become acute. She argues we will also begin to realize that the distinction we make between being "sick" and "well" is often arbitrary and usually unhelpful, in that it prompts us to bounce back and forth between willful ignorance of our body's workings and helpless dependence on a medical professional.
Langer wrote a best-selling book on mindfulness in 1990, and this latest volume may also climb the charts: A Hollywood movie focusing on the counterclockwise experiment, starring Jennifer Aniston as the research psychologist, is scheduled for release next year. No doubt the renewed interest in Langer's research reflects a widespread fear of aging among baby boomers, many of whom will resonate to her ideas. How many have the discipline to follow through on her recommendations is another question. Living a fully engaged life in which we constantly question not only society's assumptions about aging but also our own ingrained beliefs is a bit more involved than getting a Botox injection.
Nevertheless, policymakers and health educators need to be exposed to these concepts. (Her chapter about the consequences of language used by doctors should be taught in medical schools. Does anyone really feel better when told their cancer is "in remission"?) Langer persuasively suggests it is no coincidence that a society that worships youth and considers the elderly somewhat embarrassing is bankrupting itself with health care costs. If pop culture and the mass media equate being old with being weak, helpless and irrelevant, why wouldn't the elderly feel feeble?
So the fountain of youth may in fact be the flood of chemicals in our brain that processes both internal and external messages about old age and dutifully passes them on to our joints, blood vessels and vital organs. Perhaps it's time to start noticing these cerebral downloads and disregard the disempowering ones. Personally, I'm planning to pop in a tape of When Harry Met Sally into the VCR and celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. It turns out 1989 was quite a year.
Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Ventura County Star.