You are as young as you feel, goes the advice. It’s said with a good measure of hope and often as a counter to the unspoken put-down: act your age. But it turns out if you do act your age, you will shorten your life.
Take a fascinating experiment done a few decades ago. A group of men in their seventies and eighties were bussed to a retreat and told to act and talk as if they were living 20 years earlier. They were exposed to films and radio of the period and surrounded by photos of themselves in fine health. Another group was kept strictly in the here and now, with no reminders that they were once young and active.
Within a week, the “time travellers” showed marked improvements in dexterity, intelligence tests and blood pressure, even in their eyesight and hearing. They were walking faster and their confidence had soared. Several threw away their walking sticks. Acting as if they were younger men had knocked years off their bodies and minds.
It’s not just seniors who benefit from acting younger. Women who have children later in life have significantly longer life expectancies. The counterpoint, inevitably, is also true. If your partner is more than four years older than you, your lifespan is under serious threat, because of the simple likelihood that you will act older than you are.
The way you behave directly influences your thoughts and emotions in just about every area of life. “We all know our thoughts influence our behaviour. So you feel happy and you smile,” says psychology professor Richard Wiseman. But it works the other way around, too. “In its simplest form, when you force your face into a smile, you feel happier.
So if you want to change how you think and feel, altering your behaviour is the quickest route.” Wiseman, based at the University of Hertfordshire and the author of several bestselling books about psychology, including 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, calls it the “As If” principle. Nike’s slogan, Just Do It, was right after all. By contrast, he says, there is no evidence that simply thinking positive works.
And for a different slant on things, Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, talks to Ruth Laugesen.
But wait. There’s more.
Governments doing things for people may sound positive and benevolent, but there is always a trade-off: less freedom, visiting US professor Robert George tells Jane Clifton.
And Rebecca Macfie writes on the thousands of Canterbury householders who face years of waiting to get their homes repaired or rebuilt and are directing their rage at the insurance industry.
Leading the bumper books and culture section is Guy Somerset‘s interview with Zadie Smith, who has returned with a much anticipated new work. Plus reviews of Roshi Fernando, Rajesh Parameswaran, Kirsty Gunn and Mario Vargas Llosa. And Nick Bollinger on new Rolling Stones books.