In his new book, “The Power of Positive Aging: Successfully Coping with the Inconvenience of Aging,” Dr. David Alan Lereah says positive aging saved his life.
At age 62, a few years ago, Lereah was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer.
He recently talked with Richard Eisenberg, Managing Editor for Nextavenue.org, about how to age positively.
Next Avenue: How are you feeling? What is your life like these days?
David Lereah: I’m feeling very good, actually. I still have some physical limits. I sleep on a forty-five-degree angle because they had to cut half of my stomach out and half of my esophagus is gone. I have some endurance issues as well. So, there are some real physical limitations. But, as the theme of the book stresses, I’ve got such a positive outlook that these things don’t annoy me.
I am now a walker and walk ten thousand to twelve thousand steps a day; that’s over five miles. On a good day, I walk fifteen thousand steps. It’s not a big deal that I no longer play golf or tennis because I can’t bend down to pick up the balls. I just no longer have expectations to play them.
Next Avenue: You write in the book that we don’t know how to grow old. Why do you say that?
David Lereah: I break down aging into three aging ‘rooms:’ the Positive Aging Room, the Practical Aging Room and God’s Waiting Room.
Most of us are in the Practical Aging Room and that’s a good one. It means you will try to age gracefully.
Maybe you have a bucket list of things do to find meaning in life.
But you will have some bouts of anxiety over thinking about mortality. You will have depression on occasion when something significant happens to you, either a serious physical decline or mental decline. It’s going to jolt us and most of us are not prepared to handle a serious situation.
We need to then have more wherewithal to cope with that serious challenge. With a positive mindset, you become more spiritual.
People who are Practically Aging are the lucky ones. They don’t experience serious marks of aging. They won the lottery.
And people in God’s Waiting Room? In my travels, I’ve seen God’s Waiting Room. These are people who simply sit and wait for their name to be called to leave this life.
Next Avenue: What does science tell us about positive aging?
David Lereah: It’s incredibly good for our health.
I saw a 2019 study that said positive thinking can result in an eleven to fifteen percent longer lifespan and can increase your likelihood of living to 85 or older.
And Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the Nobel Prize found that some behaviors of positive aging had the unintended effect of protecting and lengthening your telomeres, which act as an aging clock in every cell.
It’s difficult to make a blanket statement that if you practice positive aging you will live longer.
But I think we can make a pretty strong statement by inserting the word ‘may.’ There is a likelihood your lifespan will be extended by practicing positive aging, due to healthy telomeres.
We have fifty thousand to seventy thousand unconscious thoughts a day and eighty percent of them are negative. It takes practice to become positive.