By Alan Castel (2018 – Oxford University Press)
We are all aging. Are you up to date on what you can do to age successfully?
There are many misconceptions about aging and they can paint an overly negative picture. Alan Castel’s book Better with Age dispels many of them, along with ageist stereotypes, evidence-based recommendations on how to age successfully. Castel is a Professor of Psychology at UCLA and he has a knack for translating research on aging into easy-to-understand practical takeaways. One interesting aspect of this book is that it’s targeted at a wide range of ages. The author is 42 and shared with us that he was motivated to write the book to educate younger people (as well as Baby Boomers) on what they can do now to position themselves to age successfully.
Castel writes about the research on various aspects of aging, including happiness; memory; staying sharp, wisdom, and habits. The focus is on what factors are controllable and modifiable (more than you may think) and sensible steps you can take. While the main theme is the benefits of aging, Castel doesn’t shy away from the challenges and paradoxes inherent in growing older. Much of the book is based on his personal interviews with an interesting mix of people, many of whom you’ll recognize, who share their experiences and observations on how they have adapted and thrived.
We get more selective as we age. Castel highlights The Socioemotional Selectivity Theory developed by Laura Carstensen of Stanford University, which postulates that as we age, we tend to focus more on (and seek out more of) the positives in life. For example, he summarizes the findings of studies that found that older adults tend to experience more positive emotions and fewer negative ones. As time becomes perceived to be short (at any age) our priorities change. He also notes that memory becomes more selective as well, focusing more on what’s important and less on details we access in other ways.
Curiosity and pursuing something new and/or challenging is beneficial. Learning something new or working to improve something is a wise move we get older. Castel cautions that there’s no single “silver bullet” that leads to staying sharp. having a portfolio of activities is part of the puzzle and he advises also becoming aware of what to avoid. A ‘Not To Do’ list can be as valuable as your To-Do list.
Walking may be better than you think. As a marathon runner who suffered a career-ending injury and shifted to walking, this was my favorite nugget from the book. Exercise is beneficial in many ways, but Castel points out promising results of several studies showing improvements in memory and cognitive functioning in older adults. Walking is an exercise that many of us can do and it appears to pay multiple dividends.
Mind your mindset. Without realizing it societal stereotypes about aging can shape people’s beliefs about your own aging. Castel highlights Carol Dweck’s model of a Fixed versus a Growth Mindset and research demonstrating that older adults who believed that memory was modifiable outperformed those who saw it as a fixed trait. A positive attitude can be cultivated and may help to update your attitudes about aging.
Take charge of what you can control.
Audit your beliefs about aging. Do you need to update your attitude about your own aging? Do you have a clear purpose in later life? Are you pursuing interesting and challenging goals?
Finally, are you getting the right amount of exercise? Is walking more an option for you?
Better with Age is a well-written insightful book that anyone who is aging can benefit from reading – and applying.
Listen to our interesting discussion with Alan Castel on The Retirement Conversation podcast. (Even better: take a walk and listen…)
Want to read this book?