How Fast Are You Aging? You Have More Control Than You Think

Guest post by Jane Hernandez, CCHT

In 1981, Ellen Langer, a young Harvard psychologist performed a radical experiment that showed how our mind is capable of slowing and even reversing the aging process.

Here’s what happened.

Langer took eight men, all in their seventies, to a converted monastery in New Hampshire for a five-day stay.

Jane Hernandez, CCHT
Jane Hernandez, CCHT

Some of the men were bent with arthritis. Some needed canes. As they entered the monastery, they returned to the 1950s of their youth. A vintage radio played Perry Como, while Ed Sullivan hosted his show on a black-and-white TV.

Everything in the elderly men’s environment was vintage 1959: Life magazine, Quaker Oats boxes, old copies of Reader’s Digest.

The men were instructed to reminisce about that earlier time, and to inhabit it as fully as possible.

Langer told them, “We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this, you will feel as you did in 1959.”

Even though some of them were frail, they were required to carry their suitcases upstairs to their rooms.

Each day, as they discussed sports (Johnny Unitas and Wilt Chamberlain), news events such as Fidel Castro’s rise to power and Eisenhower’s meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, or the latest movie they’d been shown – Anatomy of a Murder starring Jimmy Stewart – they were to speak in the present tense, as if they were actually living in 1959

There were no mirrors, no modern clothing, and no photos except those of their youth.

Before their stay, the men were tested both physically and mentally. At the end of their stay, they were tested again. The “after” tests showed that they were uniformly more flexible, had greater manual dexterity, and even sat taller.

Perhaps most surprising of all, their sight had improved!

Independent observers said that they appeared younger. To Ellen Langer, it meant that the men had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies simply went along for the ride.

As the men waited for the bus home, the group of formerly cranky and creaky seniors engaged in a spontaneous touch football game!

What happened? The men were consciously aware that they were in an experiment, yet it didn’t prevent their subconscious from installing new beliefs about their age and condition.

That’s how much our beliefs can change us. Are you up for that?

Sure, we’re aging every second of our lives, and sure, getting old is unavoidable. But the experiment clearly showed that “aging” isn’t just about the number of wrinkles on your face. How you think and feel makes a tremendous difference. (Surely you’ve noticed that we don’t all age at the same rate.)

Researchers today are hard at work studying how stress affects aging. They’re finding that aging isn’t an unchanging, inflexible fact of our genes.

The new science of epigenetics is proving that you can control your gene expression – meaning that there’s no need to believe that you’ll die at fifty just like your dad. You can live much longer if you believe it. Of course, good health habits will help.

Stress makes us age faster. It’s a very good reason to start to work on changing our beliefs about ourselves. As you unload the baggage of self-definitions that say, “I’m old,” it will take a load off your body, spirit, and mind.

The body tries to achieve what the mind believes. Keep thinking youthful thoughts and you may be surprised to find that you’re starting to feel younger again.

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Jane sees clients at Pacific Naturopathic in Mountain View on Thursdays, and in Oakland by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (510) 676-1460 or email Jane:

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For more information about Jane and her work click HERE.