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M
ind Over Matter
 

Never Too Old to Learn: Reversing the Aging Process

© Barry Bittman MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by Barry Bittman MD. View all columns in series
If growing old is getting you down, what you’re about to learn may help you discover your Fountain of Youth.

The longer I live the more I realize that staying young has nothing to do with wrinkles or age spots. Aging in its most important sense isn't measured by retirement, becoming a grandparent or collecting social security. It's not about slowing down physically and it isn't measured by the number of senior discounts tallied at local movie theaters.

Many people associate aging with loss and compromise. The underlying focus is based upon the supposition that what was once possible no longer is within one's grasp. For those who choose to view growing older this way, aging is a life sentence leading to progressive demise. Their mindset is obvious.

Yet if one searches for vitality in older folks, it doesn’t take long to discover the ones who seemingly never age. They're the enthusiastic seniors from whom springs a fountain of energy and an unrelenting zest for capturing every moment with meaning and joy. These doers and shakers have minds that are constantly in motion even when their bodies fail.

And they share a simple secret - expanding our vistas turns back the clock.

For vitality springs from active minds. A recent survey from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) demonstrates my point. More than 1000 people over 50 who responded noted desires for furthering skills (52 percent), getting more enjoyment from life (51 percent), improving their diet and nutrition (49 percent), measuring their personal health status (48 percent) and managing stress (46 percent).

According to the AARP study, "more than 6 in 10 use newspapers, books, magazines and journals on a regular basis - more than any other method of learning." It is also clear that in order to meet the educational needs of seniors, special considerations must be taken into account. Preferred learning styles tend to be more experiential and centered around social support and camaraderie.

A wonderful example I've cited in the past is the Music Making and Wellness project which included 130 retirees in Michigan and Florida. Roughly half the group participated in what was termed, "Wellness-enhanced Keyboard Lessons" held in a group setting at Fletcher Music Centers over a period of 20 weeks. Each session, conducted by a music therapist, included a short warm-up stress-reduction exercise followed by group keyboard lessons. When the music making group was compared with a non-participating group, it became obvious that numerous health benefits occurred. Anxiety, depression and loneliness diminished significantly for those taking keyboard lessons when compared with the control group.

Yet beyond the obvious health benefits, most participants actually learned to play the instrument. For some it was the realization of a life-long dream, while for others, the process of learning to play the organ brought great joy, self-esteem and a needed sense of accomplishmentæ some of the most important keys to staying young.

While we're on the subject of "accomplishment," let’s spend a few moments exploring what just might prove to be the best yardstick of vitality. The implications are especially important in the context of the word "retire" which according to Random House, means "to withdraw, or go away, or apart to a place of privacy, shelter or seclusion."

In the broadest sense, everything is in the process of living or dying. Perhaps the ongoing process of accomplishment is the greatest exercise in vitality, while retreat and involution herald a progressive downward spiral. The way one ages is essentially a matter of choice.

Why not imagine your aging process as a choice - to learn, to grow, to flourish and to expand your horizons? Why not sign up for a class or get involved in a new hobby? Consider taking a computer course, and begin emailing your grandchildren. Invest time and energy in yourself by going to the library and realizing the freedom and joy in mastering something that’s always attracted your attention. Turn available time (your greatest resource) into accomplishment!

Choose something meaningful each day, share your wisdom with others and discover your Fountain of Youth. Soon you'll learn the process of discovery is the secret for staying young at heart--Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary outpatient medical facility in Meadville, PA., Dr. Bittman has pioneered a new paradigm for treating the “whole person.” Based upon extensive......more
 
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