Luke Armstrong | Jan 8, 2019
This blog post was updated December 5, 2019.
In a 2016 study from Columbia University, researchers found that age isn’t just a number: it’s also a state of mind. According to the study’s findings, older adults who perceive aging as “malleable” performed better on memory tests. They were also less susceptible to negative stereotypes about old age. In short, if you want to stay young, it helps to think young.
So how exactly does someone measure a state of mind? In the study, researchers analyzed the ways that stereotypes about aging affected participants’ memory and physical responses. Individuals who imagined aging as an inevitable decline performed
worse on memory tests and displayed higher blood pressure levels than their peers who believed in the fluidity of aging.
When asked about the study, researcher David Weiss stated, “Adults who believe age is just a number showed better memory performance, but adults who believed aging is set in stone ... had a decrease in memory performance and a stronger stress reaction.” Negative stereotypes about aging can have troubling, often self-fulfilling effects on seniors, which is why “thinking young” is a valuable skill to adopt early on.
The empowering news is that while your genetics are a major factor, your behavior, outlook, and lifestyle play an even larger role in determining your “true” age.
In a sense, age is a choice people make. Although there are lots of activities that can help you feel younger inside and out, travel in particular has amazing benefits for your cognitive clock.
Your perspective affects how old you feel, and practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to gain a positive view of life. Gratitude has become a hot topic among psychologists, and studies show that it is consistently associated with greater levels
of happiness and life satisfaction.
If you’re looking for ways to practice gratitude, travel is an excellent starting point. Travel makes us grateful for what we have by showing us a glimpse into others’ lives. Even if you’re traveling exclusively for leisure, chances are, you’ll return from the trip feeling grateful for your home, your bed, and your life’s little routines.
As you get ready for your next getaway, try to keep a spirit of gratitude in mind. Plan a mission trip, plan a trip cross-country, or just drive a few minutes in your own city. Beyond feeling grateful for your life back home, cultivate a sense of thankfulness for your ability to travel freely and comfortably.
As travel writer Bruce Northam says, “There’s no doubt traveling has kept my youthful spirit alive. It’s shown me that regardless of where you’re from, odds are we share the same goals — to be useful to ourselves and our families.”
Getting out of your comfort zone can be a challenge, and overcoming those challenges is like taking your brain to a cognitive boot camp!
Travel is an ideal way to escape the ordinary. Plan a trip to Disney World, and celebrate the movies you once loved. Take a walking tour of a European city to learn about the histories that shaped it. Sample the bizarre foods you’ve only seen on TV. A life well-lived is full of new adventures.
Accommodations are another area where you can branch out. Many older travelers enjoy all-inclusive resorts, but it doesn’t mean that’s your only option. There are so many unique ways to experience your destination. For example, you could try booking an Airbnb instead of a hotel room, or renting an RV to see the world by road. You can even book a stay in a castle, if you time your trip just right!
With each new experience, you’ll gain useful skills and cherished memories. If you’re planning on trying something particularly adventurous, just make sure to pack your travel insurance.
It’s no secret that getting regular exercise is essential for keeping your body fit and feeling young. Traveling is filled with opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring in ways that will have you logging record daily steps on your Fitbit.
Make sure to listen to your body, and understand your limitations. On days when you’re spending hours sitting in a car or on a plane, take periodic breaks to stretch and walk around. On more strenuous travel days, remember to build in time to eat, hydrate, and rest.
Older travelers are some of the most adventurous, but taking precautions is essential for a successful trip. After all, the last thing you want is a vacation cut short by chronic pain or by a stress fracture. Treat your body well, and it’ll treat you well in return.
Of course, you don’t need to travel to accomplish any of these things. You can practice gratitude, try something new, or maintain healthy levels of physical activity all without leaving your own backyard. But the break in routine that comes with travel is an opportunity to embrace adventure, rather than being stuck in an endless cycle of sameness.
Science tells us that an adventurous, open mindset will not only help you feel younger, but it can turn back the clock on aging. With every trip, you have endless opportunities to enhance your physical and mental health. So, consider this your permission slip to add travel as part of your health and wellness routine. Thanks, science!
Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.