If you believe you are capable of becoming the healthy, engaged person you want to be in old age, you are much more likely to experience that outcome, a recent Oregon State University study shows.
“How we think about who we’re going to be in old age is very predictive of exactly how we will be,” said Shelbie Turner, a doctoral student in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and co-author on the study.
Previous studies on aging have found that how people thought about themselves at age 50 predicted a wide range of future health outcomes up to 40 years later — cardiovascular events, memory, balance, will to live, hospitalizations; even mortality.
“Previous research has shown that people who have positive views of aging at 50 live 7.5 years longer, on average, than people who don’t,” said Karen Hooker, co-author of the study and the Jo Anne Leonard Petersen Endowed Chair in Gerontology and Family Studies at OSU.
Because self-perceptions of aging are linked to so many major health outcomes, Hooker and Turner wanted to understand what influences those perceptions. Their study looked specifically at the influence of two factors: self-efficacy associated with possible selves, meaning a person’s perceived ability to become the person they want to be in the future; and optimism as a general personality trait.