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When you think of the word old, what comes to mind? In a new video for its #DisruptAging campaign, AARP asks a handful of millennials this very question — and depending on your age, you may or may not be shocked by the answer.
When they were asked what age a person becomes “old,” most responded somewhere in the 40s or 50s. When they asked how an “old” person might send a text, they mimicked opening flip phones and putting on glasses to see the screen. When they were asked how an “old” person would cross the street, they depicted hunched backs and walkers.
According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, although “youth springs eternal,” mainstream media tends to assign characteristics like charisma, vitality, beauty, and energy to the under-30 set. “It is not the norm to see stories about how amazing grandparents or elders might be,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “Instead we see sights of the frail, the vulnerable, and the needy.”
However, AARP’s producers profoundly break that feeble stereotype in the video when they introduce some “old” people in their 50s, 60s and 70s to the millennials — who are shocked at just how youthful they are.
The parties are given a few minutes to get acquainted and are then asked to teach one another some new physical skills. From ballroom dance to martial arts, boxing to Pilates, the mature men and women are able to complete physical skills just as well their millennial counterparts. In some cases, far better.
The most important thing to remember about your 20s and 30s isn’t to be young but rather to treat yourself well, according to Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. “It affects physical and mental health as you get older,” he tells Yahoo Beauty. “Keeping a fit body also creates a healthy mind. Getting regular sleep protects the brain from damage. … The better you feel in your 40s and 50s, the more engaged you stay in your work and your relationships. An active midlife extends to old age. Physically and mentally active people in middle age retain that activity and lifestyle in old age.
Thankfully, says Markman, more and more people are changing how they view age. “The interesting thing is that, although our culture prizes youth, a large number of boomers and Gen-Xers, who are 50 and older, have demonstrated how much older adults can accomplish,” he says. “In the 1970s, people assumed they would be relatively sedentary in their retirement years. Now the norm is for active retirement.”
Many retirement communities have large numbers of activities going on weekly, as well as trips geared toward seniors. “So the assumption is that the aging population is going to remain engaged in the community and active rather than riding off into the sunset,” Markman says, indicating millennials have plenty of reason to look forward to redefining a full life in their twilight years.
Ivankovich says that she often hears her millennial students place semi-rigid restrictions on age — sentiments like not wanting to raise children “when they’re old.” However, there’s no handbook saying you must stop a certain lifestyle when you enter your 40s and 50s. “You can choose not to ‘grow old’ in your mindsets and continue enjoying all of the activities that define youth — celebrating with friends, participating in sports, and so on,” Ivankovich says. “Past research suggests that those who deem themselves to be ‘old’ will abandon the activities and interests that they equate to youth.”
According to Markman, millennials should take heart. Not only are older generations redefining what it means to age beautifully, using research-backed health practices to keep their minds and bodies strong, but maturity looks far different at age 50 than it does at 25.
We needn’t fear aging. “Most people do not feel as old as they are physically,” Markman says. “Healthy people in their 50s feel younger — even if they have some additional aches, pains, and illnesses that they did not have when they were younger.” Take care of your body when you’re young and you may never feel old.
“Old,” Ivankovich says, is as much a state of mind as a state of physical being. If you limit yourself based on age, you limit your enjoyment of life. “When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old,” declares 75-year-old George in the video. Wise words.