Hey there, listeners. It's Audie. And the team here at The Assignment is taking a break. We're going to do some more digging, some more reporting and be back with some more episodes. In the meantime, I want to highlight another amazing CNN podcast, Chasing Life, with chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And this season, Sanjay's exploring the science of aging. He's here with me now to talk more about it. Welcome back.
Thank you for having me. I am a big fan of yours and I love listening to your podcast. And what an honor to be here.
Thank you. Thank you so much. So this is probably one area you're completely not an expert in because you don't look like you age ever at all. Let's be clear. There is somewhere there's a portrait in your basement that's doing all the aging and you're just out here on TV. So like, what's the deal? Why? Why did you want to get into this?
Well, first of all, thank you for that. I am aging. You know, it's funny, I, I started to think about this, this fact that we all we all age, we don't talk about it much. There are things in life that we all humans have is this universal experience, and yet we don't talk about it. And if anything, we in many places, many cultures, they start to demonize it. And even though we all go through it. It's just always been this this sort of hypocritical thing in the back of my mind. And as someone who's traveled the world, I looked at how other cultures approach aging. Being Indian, this idea of intergenerational households and having respect for your elders versus focusing on anti-aging, there are all these things. But the thing that really got me, Audie, I read this article actually in The Atlantic magazine by Jennifer Senor, and...
It was about the age that you feel versus the age that you are?
Exactly. Did you read that?
I'm obsessed with that article. Yes.
So interesting. Right. Because I think it kind of got to the point, you are a certain age that is based on revolutions of planets and, you know, etc., etc.. But how you feel, that's not just a euphemism. It actually means something in terms of how you might actually age. So your attitude toward aging based on how you feel could actually have an impact on your biological aging. I find that interesting. Also, you know, as a doc, I got to tell you, I operated on someone who was in their nineties recently. If you were to say, well, that, you know, how did they do that? They seem very old for an operation. Physiologically, they were probably in their sixties. So, you know, you have 90 year olds who are really 60 from a medical standpoint. And by the way, vice versa.
You know, last season you talked with your kids. Right. And this season, actually, in this first episode, you're going to be talking with your parents. Number one, what's it like for you to get this personal, which I think that's what pods are good for. And number two, how did they surprise you on this topic?
Number one. It was it was really special, frankly, to talk to my parents in this way. And I'll say this, you know, I talk to my parents all the time. We're really close. I think what the podcast does is it enables, empowers a conversation that may have otherwise not been had. We talk about, you know, medical problems -- you know I'm the doc in the family. So I get all that. But to sit down, not over a meal, not in a car, just face to face and talk about aging, ask questions that may not, may have otherwise not been asked was really it was really great. I think it was really it was certainly special for me. But what I realized partway through the conversation, it was special for them also to just be able to share these thoughts. So I think there are times, I think as a reporter when it's very okay to be personal. And I think when it came to this topic, I mean, aging -- they're the first people that I thought of as soon as I started thinking about the season of the podcast. And, you know, we share these genes, we share this history. What does their aging process and their thoughts on aging mean? For me, I mean, for anybody else who might be listening, it was really interesting. I, I was surprised by a few things. My dad said something to me right off the bat, Audie, that kind of made me pause for for a bit. And he basically I asked him the same question that Jennifer Senor had put in her article: how old are you and how old do you feel? And his answer was some version of I feel like I'm on borrowed time. And that was it's a little bit of a gut punch to hear that.
Yeah, because everyone on the Internet would say things like, Well, actually I'm 25 in my mind forever. Or like, it was very. Yeah.
His father died young and. His grandfather had died young. He has had heart problems. He did not expect to still be here. And on one hand, you might think, Oh, that's really frightening and scary and everything. In fact, for him, it was kind of joyous. He feels like he beat the clock in some ways, and I just never had heard him talk like that. And again, we're we're close. We talk all the time. My mom is 80 now, and she's gonna turn 81 this year. And no aches and pains sleeps 8 to 9 hours a night, always in a good mood, cooks around food primarily plant based. Very social, goes up and down stairs in her condo building, you know. I think we have a preconceived notion of what it's like to get older. For me, I just assumed there's going to be a lot of aches and pains and poor sleep and maybe more depressed mood. I think the nuisances of aging, I thought. With my mom, I've always known she's a really high spirit, good spirit person, but to hear her just lay it out like that. My mom was a refugee during the partition of the subcontinent of India. This is in the mid to late forties. She lived as a refugee for 12 years and she has a lot of, you know, experiences in her life that may have made her a more bitter person. And yet she is almost, almost reverse aging. She's doing more than she ever did at age 80. I think the know aches and pains thing really surprised me because I think, you know, we just imagine joints wear and tear and you can't get out of chairs as easily and can't do what you want to do. She's doing everything she wants to do. So on one hand, my dad's on borrowed time. On the other hand, my mom seems to be defying aging. I wouldn't have really known that, at least not knowing their perspective unless we had that podcast.
Well, in the meantime, this explains a lot about you and what I'm looking at now.
We get to see each other even though there's a podcast, which I love, Audie.
So without further ado, we are going to play for you the first episode of this latest season of Chasing Life. We want you to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.
What a pleasure. Thank you.
I think I enjoyed each phase of my life.
Are you going to, are you going to just say the opposite of what Dad said?
No. I want to tell for myself. I don't want to copy.
That's me, Sanjay, and my parents, Damyanti and Subash. You know, when I first started thinking about this season of the podcast, which is all about making the most of our age, my parents, they were the first people I wanted to talk to. After all, I've seen them at every stage of life now for the last 53 years. And as I discovered somewhat to my surprise, they have a really good attitude when it comes to getting older. Someone says they want to talk about aging. What comes to your mind?
Well, the day you're born, you start aging from that day.
So you're aging all the time.
Is that is that a I mean, you saying it as a as a good thing?
Moms are always right then. Today is no different. We're all getting older every minute of every day. It's a reality for all of us. Even as you sit here listening to the podcast, you are aging just a little bit. But I got to be honest with you, even though I knew this intellectually, the thought of getting older, simply thinking about it sometimes made me a bit anxious. I think it's a worry that sort of been lingering in the back of my mind ever since I turned 50 a few years ago. And I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who feels this way. A lot of times, Mom, people think of aging as sort of a almost a dirty word or being old as an as a negative thing. Why do you think that is?
What is the alternative? You want to die early?
I think part of the problem is that so many of the messages that we receive around aging, something that is happening to all of us all the time. So many of the messages around this are negative ... on TV.
And before you go, would you mind changing my diaper?
Making wrinkles look so last week.
And social media like TikTok
Come spend $800 on Botox with me.
But what I started thinking about is what would happen if we confronted some of these beliefs head on if we just took a moment to really be honest and rethink the way that we approach getting older. On today's episode of the podcast, I'm going to ask my own parents for their advice on this topic. And I'm also going to talk to an expert who really struck me with something that she said. The way that we simply think about aging could have an objective, significant effect on our health, could even add years to our life.
Professor Becca Levy
And I think there's a number of factors that probably contribute to it. I mean, one of them, I think, is the growing anti-aging industry, which actually profits from this idea of old age is something that we want to fight and combat and overcome. And I think that's been a big shift in the language and the messages that we have in this country around what it means to get older.
It's our first episode in our all new season of the podcast, and it's about making the most of your age, whatever age that may be. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is Chasing Life. I've been so fascinated on the science of getting older. I've been reporting on this topic since I started at CNN more than two decades ago.
Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And this morning, we're giving you tips on living a longer, healthier life.
I've written entire books on this, but over the years, I got to say, maybe no surprise, the issue has grown even more urgent than pressing to me. And as I've watched my parents age as well. I decided that it would be really amazing to sit down and talk to both of them about a topic that most of us don't talk enough about. Longtime listeners of the podcast are probably going to be familiar with my parents and their story. But for those who don't know, their lives have been pretty incredible. Both my mom and dad are immigrants to the United States from India. They kind of scraped by most of their lives and were always forced to be planning for tomorrow. It was the mid 1960s when they fell in love. And how they met is a story that I think could make even a cynic believe in true love. My mom was driving through Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her car broke down again. It's the mid 1960s. So what do you do? She was short on money. She had no friends and she had a broken down car. She went to a phone booth and looked for an Indian sounding name, which was Patel. One of the most common Indian names. She called that number and that person wasn't home. But that person's roommate was home. His name? Gupta. That's how my parents met. My mom was a classic damsel in distress, and my dad came to her rescue. They've had this amazing life. I'm their oldest son. I have a younger brother, ten years younger. And now my parents are retired in Florida. And I decided that I really wanted to hear how they're adjusting to this new stage in life. Again, I think I have a pretty good idea because we're close, we talk all the time. But this podcast was an opportunity to really dig deep and even to get some tips on how to navigate the period of life that I currently find myself in. You can tell our audience how old you are first and then how old you feel.
Okay, I'm going to be 79 nine this year. I feel about that then and not much different. In my particular case, I feel that I am an old timer right now.
Is that right? Yeah. How so?
If I look at the longevity in the family. I never thought that I'll be here.
What did. What did you think?
My father. He died when he was 74. So that made me think that maybe I will not even last that long.
But you kept the number in the back of your mind, 74.
That's right. That's exactly right.
And so now you feel like it's over time?
Were you scared? You know, in your late fifties, sixties, early seventies. Was that a scary time?
Not scary, but just anxiety.
No, I do not think that. I think I'll be more prepared for it.
Again, it's sometimes unusual to have conversations with loved ones that are so candid, even though you talk to them all the time. Hearing that my dad overcame some of his anxiety about getting older was somehow comforting to me as someone who has shared these same worries. I was 13 years old when my grandfather died of a stroke. It was a very formative time for me and for the whole family. In some ways, that was what led me to go into medicine. I spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. I had never been in hospital before. The doctors were kind. They were compassionate. They explained things to me, and I think it was the first time I really thought that medicine could be a career. Nobody in my family had ever been a doctor before. It also made me better understand not just the physical, but the emotional aspects of illness. And I'm glad my dad has made peace with his anxiety and his fears about getting older. I wanted to hear my mom's thoughts on this as well.
I just turned 81 and I feel great. I probably feel younger than my age because I'm pretty active. I don't like to just sit around, you know, and do nothing.
What did you think about what Dad just said about this borrowed time thing?
I don't think that way. Whatever it is, I want to live healthy, So I don't want to bring any negative thoughts in my mind. I just, you know, get up and do my routine every day. I go to bed early and I get up early and we walk. We do water aerobics. We go to gym, having friends over. So life is good.
Just listening to my mom. You'd be surprised if I told you that her life hasn't always been so carefree. She fled what is now called Pakistan as a five year old refugee. It was a time of a bloody partition back in 1947. She spent a lot of her life as a refugee before she finally was able to leave India in her early twenties. At the time, no one probably could have imagined that that little girl living in a refugee camp would one day go on to be Ford Motor Company's first female engineer. What she is proof of to lots of people, but especially her family, is that anything is possible. You had a period of time when this partition happened in India and you had to flee and live in refugee life.
I mean, can you look back on that and say that was also good?
Yes, very good. You know, because, you know, if you have a good times all the time, you don't realize what really good times are. And that's probably the best thing happened because we were very comfortable, the part which became Pakistan, and we had to flee in the middle of the night. And I remember everything very clearly till this day. We were went to the coastal town from our village to Karachi that time and literally put on the cargo ships. We floated for several days before reaching Mumbai. And life just changed totally. But, I learned from my parents and grandparents that everything in their life happens for the good. And I now totally believe in it. So when hard time comes. Think about it every day it gets dark, but the sun always will rise.
Even though I've known my mom my whole life, obviously, sitting across the room from her for this conversation, I really couldn't have felt more proud of her and the life that she has built, but also the attitude that she continues to have. She's had such struggle. A lot of people have had struggle. But what you do with that struggle, how you overcome that struggle, how you potentially become strengthened by that struggle that makes all the difference. And to be fair and to be clear, it wasn't always easy getting here.
When I was only like a 12 year old. We were riding a bus to go to this village and these two young boys about my age, 10 and 12. This was a winter day, cold, and they had no shoes, short sleeved shirt, and they were wearing shorts and they were selling tea. They said their father got killed in those riots. And they were helping Mother. I pulled out 1 rupee and gave it out for them. They refused. They said, "We are not beggars. If you want to help us, buy our tea." That's not much pride these people had.
It was very touching. After all these years. Almost 70 years. I still remember those two boys.
What is the message, do you think, for people from that story?
Just believe in your hard work. Believe in your hard work. Believe in yourself. Always believe in yourself. You can fool everybody, but you can never fool yourself. Right?
So be honest to yourself.
Yeah. It's an emotional story.
I think you can tell by now that my parents are a huge inspiration to me. They faced challenges in their younger years, but instead of growing bitter or growing resentful, they use the lessons they learned along the way to build a better life for me and my brother and now their five grandchildren. And today, they are both quick to tell me that they are living their best lives now. They have new routines. They have new hobbies. They have a new lease on life.
So mentally we play bridge and we also do karaoke singing. And karaoke is a good way of passing time, but we also memorize the songs, so that helps with my mental health. And as soon as we started with the karaoke, now we have like a hundred friends.
It is quite surprising that karaoke again became such a big part of your life. Could you have predicted in your fifties how you'd be spending your time now?
Does it surprise you, Mom? Like if you said in your fifties, you're going to spend a lot of your time in your late seventies, early eighties singing?
No, I never thought about it. And it's a good thing it happened. And through this, we made some new friends. They were not like from the workplace. And we have traveled with them around the world.
I am curious. Do you have more aches and pains when you get older? I mean, again, that's one of those things I think people assume. But is that the case?
No, not in my case, I'm not, uh...
You don't have more things don't hurt more easily.
That's good to hear. I mean, I think that that is the perception is that as you get older, three things happen. A lot of things happen, but it's harder to sleep. The mood is maybe not as good and you have more aches and pains. What about you, mom? So aches and pains, first of all.
That that's incredible. I guess I always just assumed people had more aches and pains.
No aches and pains, and I don't take any prescription medicine.
You know what? That's funny. I sleep really, really good. One day somebody says when people, they get old, they sleep less. I say maybe I'm getting younger because I sleep 9 hours straight without anything.
Always in good mood, too.
And I mean, Dad shaking his head.
I'm in a good mood unless somebody gives me a hard time.
Being really honest here. I guess I just always assumed that aches and pains and poor sleep were just part of the territory when it came to getting older. But as you just heard from my parents, they are proof that that's not always the case. They're still very sharp. They read books, they watch movies, they memorize songs, they play complicated card games. It does sound like a pretty great life. People are fearful of aging, though.
They are. But they shouldn't be.
There's this time after retirement. The best time. This is the golden age.
Good title for it, the Golden Age. Does it surprise you that you can say that now? Like compared to if I told you when you're in your fifties, Hey, when you turn 80, you're going to say, it's my favorite time of life and I'm not scared of it at all. Would that have surprised you if I told you that in your fifties?
How about you, Mom? Would that surprised you about Dad? That he feels that way?
I think he looks happier now. He can do whatever he wants to watch TV all day if we wants to.
She had to throw that in there.
Okay, All kidding aside, I'm really glad that my parents are making the most of this time in their lives. I mean, I was worried about them when they retired, but as they've gotten older, their lives seem richer. They've picked up new friends, they've picked up new hobbies along the way. So as we wrapped up, I asked them to do something specific to give me some advice and give some advice to their 25 year old selves. If they could go back in time.
Look for happiness in the right place. Yeah. Some people think if I had more money, I'll be happier. That's not necessarily true. You may or may not be, you know. You know? So that's what I will tell myself.
Mom, your 25 year old self are sitting here next to you in the room. You can give one piece of advice. What do you give?
Stay on the course. Follow your dream. Nothing is impossible.
You know, I've had my parents on the podcast before, but this time just felt different. It felt like such a gift to be able to sit down with them and talk about this. Maybe it was a peek into my own future. If you take nothing else away from the podcast today. I encourage you to nurture and foster conversations with the people that you love that you may not have otherwise had. Again, you may be close to people, but having these sorts of in-depth conversations makes all the difference. I mean, after hearing my parents describe this phase in their lives as the golden years, it was honestly very touching and even very surprising to me. I think I've had my own preconceived notions about what it means to get older. I think people often have a lot of trepidation about getting older. They imagine a life of hospitals and extended care facilities and aches and pains and all the nuisances and ailments of aging. But so much of those beliefs are thrust upon us with this quest to stay young, even though getting old is not nearly as bad as most people think it's going to be. And our next guest says there's plenty of research to back up what my parents are saying. She says focusing on those positives can actually have objective improvements on our own health.
Professor Becca Levy
The positive age beliefs seem to have benefits to older individuals health, but unfortunately some of the negative age beliefs that we can also take in can harm different types of health outcomes.
That's coming up in just a moment.
Now back to Chasing Life. Still thinking about that conversation with my parents. It really got me thinking about what it actually means to get older. We think about this as revolutions of planets and time passing, and we think of it in this linear way. In fact, that's not the case. We don't age at the same pace all the time. I think most of us, including me, have been thinking about aging and getting older the wrong way.
Professor Becca Levy
The meaning that we give age is so important because unlike trees, we don't have rings that define our age each time. There's no biological biomarker of aging. So it really is something that we bring with us and our culture defines for us.
That's Professor Becca Levy. She's a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University. She's also an author of the book called "Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs about Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live." For years, she studied how our beliefs around aging are formed and why they matter. She's regarded as a pioneer in her field, and Levy's research has really turned a lot of long held beliefs about aging on their head. Levy believes the way that we simply think about getting older doesn't always line up with reality. Just as in my parent's case.
Professor Becca Levy
Children as young as three have already taken in the age beliefs of their culture, and then those are reinforced over time. But I don't think we're all aware of the age beliefs. So I think we all have them, but we don't always check in with them and think about what they are and think about which beliefs are beneficial and which ones are harmful. And we should find ways to resist and overcome.
So how did we get here? I mean, why do so many of us have these negative views about getting older?
Professor Becca Levy
I think there's a number of factors that probably contribute to it. I mean, one of them, I think, is the growing anti-aging industry, which actually profits from this idea of old age is something that we want to fight and combat and overcome. And I think that kind of set of ideas can actually directly contribute to an increase in the negative age beliefs. And I think also part of that is advertising and social media. And I think there's been a big shift in the language and the messages that we have in this country around what it means to get older.
Yeah, it is interesting. You hear a lot of anti-aging creams as opposed to healthy aging or gracefully aging or what is the language you like to use? Like "blank" aging. What is it?
Professor Becca Levy
I'm in favor of aging. We're all aging.
Professor Becca Levy
Yes. Exactly. Yeah, Why not? I think that the whole industry, I mean, actually embraced the term anti-aging, which is just says something like it's actually something that we would fight as opposed to find ways to celebrate and to make people scared of it I think can lead to a number of harmful outcomes.
How do you define ageism?
Professor Becca Levy
Hmm. That's a good question. The definition that I tend to use is one of Robert Butler, who coined the term ageism. So he defines ageism as prejudice and discrimination expressed towards people based solely on their age. And so he coined this term ageism, in part because he felt that by giving it a name, it would help to overcome it and make people more aware of it and reduce it. But unfortunately, he came up with the term about 50 years ago and unfortunately it is still alive and well.
Leavey says negative beliefs around aging can turn into ageism and then all that negativity and prejudice can also have a real impact on our health and even our ability to live longer.
Professor Becca Levy
I had a fellowship that allowed me to go to Japan and think about why it is that Japan has the longest lifespan in the world. And the first thing I noticed when I got there was how differently older people are treated in Japan. So I noticed that there was a lot of celebration of aging and there was a lot of honoring of aging. They had like a national holiday. They have these reality shows that feature centenarians and super centenarians. And I became very interested in the idea that maybe these age beliefs have an impact on the longer life span that they're experiencing. And that sparked a whole set of research studies that have shown this relationship between how a culture treats older people and then the health they experience. And then when I got back here, I tried to figure out how to really pull that apart and see if that really is what's happening, if that really if these age beliefs really are the determinant of health and longevity. And so we've been able to conduct different kinds of projects, different research studies, and we have found the positive age beliefs seem to have benefits to older individuals health. But unfortunately, some of the negative beliefs that we can also take in can harm different types of health outcomes.
I guess it's probably tough to to contextualize how much of an impact. Having positive age beliefs has. And I'm Indian. You know, I come from a culture where multigenerational households were the norm. Grandkids lived with their grandparents. And, you know, there was there was tremendous amount of respect and connection, you know, with with grandparents. In the United States, it does seem more siloed. And it's interesting to me, you know, to sort of try and understand the value that we place on elderly people and how much of a difference that really makes. I think about this, but I'm not sure how to describe it to people. How do you how do you describe it?
Professor Becca Levy
Yeah, well, you're picking up on something that's really important. So this idea of intergenerational contacts, we know that that is actually one of the best ways to promote positive age beliefs. And we also know that in our country we've gone from being one of the most age integrated societies to one of the most age segregated societies. And I think that age segregation can encourage ageism, unfortunately. But I think that there are ways to quantify all the benefits that this age, positive age beliefs can have. So after I got back from Japan, I came across a town in Oxford, Ohio, in which investigators about 30 years ago tried to study everybody over the age of 50 in the town. And one of the things fortunately, they asked them about was their age beliefs. So I was able to find the records for all of the people who participated in the study and looked at their survival, the how long they actually lived and studied something called the National Death Index. So we were able to match these beliefs they expressed that they'd taken in at a younger age to how long they actually lived. And what we found was that those who had taken in more age beliefs from their culture, tended to live seven and a half years longer on average than those who'd taken in more negative beliefs from the culture. So it was a nice way to actually quantify what might be happening with these cultural beliefs and how they could get under our skin and actually impact our health.
Okay, You heard that right. Think about that for a second. Levy's research found that just thinking about aging in a more positive way added an average of seven and a half years to a person's life. It's amazing how she says that positive beliefs can affect us in three ways psychologically, behaviorally and biologically.
Professor Becca Levy
So we have found, for example, with the psychological that people who have taken in more positive beliefs, they tend to have better self efficacy. And that in turn can lead to better health outcomes. We found that people who take in more positive beliefs tend to show better health behaviors, such as taking their prescribed medication and exercising more regularly. And the third in the biological, we've looked at different types of physiological pathways, and we have found that people who take in more positive beliefs tend to have lower cortisol levels, for example, over time when they get older.
But there's another side to all this as well. Levy finds that negativity can also lead to a whole host of negative health effects. Heart failure, decreased mobility. She's even found a link to Alzheimer's. Those are all really good reasons to rethink the way that we approach aging. As you and I are sitting here talking to each other, we are aging a little bit, right? I mean, we're sitting here having this conversation. The lens and the front of your eye is arguably the most durable lens on the planet. And yet as you get closer to 40 or 50 years of all that loses it some some of its elasticity start pushing the paper further and further away to read the amount of light that reaches the back of your eye, if you're 60 years old, is about a third of what it was when you were 20 years old. I see this with my teenage girls. I open the door when they're doing their homework and they seemingly are reading in the dark. I mean, how can you even see the paper? I have to turn on the light and they're like, "Dad, no it's blinding." It's really interesting, you know, to sort of think about the physical manifestations of aging. But what I'm curious about really is do you step back and think about the philosophical questions, why we age, what's going on when we age biologically?
Professor Becca Levy
Yes, But actually, if we could just take a step back. So I think you were coming up with some vivid examples of different types of decline. But I think we can also look at ways that older people can show growth and improvement in later life. How we define aging, I think ideally would include a number of different patterns of aging, including some of the ways that people show improvements in growth. So we know that there are actually types of cognition that studies showed that get better as we get older. Some things like metacognition has been found to improve in later life, so the ability to think about thinking seems to get better.
This idea of sort of thinking about it as a wear and tear sort of progressive phenomenon, not necessarily the case. You're saying at least not across the board. You run your students through an exercise where you ask them to imagine an older person and describe them in five words. I thought, this is such an interesting exercise because again, it gets at, I think, just your reflexive sort of innate belief systems. What kind of responses do you get?
Professor Becca Levy
We ask them, When you think of an old person, what are the first five words or phrases that come to mind? And we say, "Don't, don't think about it too much. Just, you know, write down the first things that that come to your mind." So the kinds of messages that people tend to name, I mean, they tend to first come up with negative age beliefs, at least in our culture. So people tend to talk about that decline in different types of physical and cognitive outcomes. But we also have found that by the time people get to the fourth or fifth word, often somebody will come up with a positive age belief. So I think that the good message about that is that we have the positive age beliefs. They're just somewhat repressed or patted down. So I think that's something that we have found in our research is if we can strengthen those positive beliefs and bring them to the forefront of our thinking and give people the tools to think about those earlier in their first images, I think that would be perhaps some benefits for both individuals, but also for our culture.
I think everybody who's listening right now to the podcast, I think it would be good to just think about that exercise yourself. Just think right now to imagine an older person as as the professor is describing and then and then use five words to describe that older person. And Professor, I might if I can, can I ask you to do the same thing? What are five words that you would use to describe an older person?
Professor Becca Levy
Let's see. I would say wisdom, creative, generative, stories and warmth, I think would be the five. What about you? What would be your five?
I mean, I think it's going to be hard to top those. I mean, you're the you're the expert. But no, I think happiness. I do find older people I have found are happier. And I've always found that really inspiring because I imagine that when I get to that age, like right now, I feel like in my mid-fifties it's a time of angst. I feel a lot of anxiety. And and I know that my dad, for example, probably felt that as well when he was my age. But now he seems just really content. So content, happy wisdom, judgment, experience.
There's this time after retirement. The best time is the golden age.
I got to say, my dad, referring to this time as the golden age, was amazing and really surprising. I really hope that my dad, someone who worked hard his entire life, would finally be able to relax, both physically and mentally when he retired. But the honest truth is, I didn't think he'd be able to do so. I thought he was going to have more aches and pains, that he would have more health issues that would become more isolated. And in fact, it's become just the opposite. It's not a euphemism to say these are the best years of his life. I know people say that all the time, but when you talk to my parents, you realize it's true. They have fewer responsibilities. They've been able to mostly maintain their health. They've reached out and developed these amazing friendships with people. They get to do the things they want to do and they are truly grateful for it. The good news is, once you identify how you feel about getting older, deep down you can actually retrain your brain to perceive aging in a more positive way, like my parents have done. Levy has a term for this. She calls it the ABC method.
Professor Becca Levy
And so the A is for increasing awareness because we talked about how a lot of people just don't even know that they have age beliefs or they don't know how the age beliefs are impacting them. So the first aspect of it is exercises to increase our awareness. The B is to place blame where blame is due, and that is the idea that to really call out that ageism can be causing different types of problems for people or challenges rather than aging itself. The C is for challenging, so finding ways to challenge the negative age beliefs both on an individual level and a collective level.
She also has some great first steps for putting all of this into action.
Professor Becca Levy
An exercise that I think can be quite effective to become aware of the messaging around us is for one week to write down every time something about aging comes up and how it's described, and then also write down if there's an absence of older people. And then the idea is after a week to write down all of the ways that aging has come up or not come up in everyday life, and if there was a negative portrayal, think about could it have been a positive portrayal? So in that television show that I watched that had that grumpy principal, you know, could it have been actually a principle that shared knowledge and was creative and came up with good programing for the school? So I think that active engagement of what the messages are is a really good first step.
Professor Becca Levy
I do want to just ask you one more question I got really interested near the end of your book when you were describing Greensboro, Vermont. Tell me about that.
Professor Becca Levy
Greensboro, Vermont is a lovely community in the northeastern kingdom of Vermont, and it's this beautiful setting that has this beautiful lake. And it's in the mountains. Older people tend to ski and hike and swim and boat. And there is older women who tend to walk three times a week together. And they've got something called the Romeo Group, which is the retired older men eating out group. So they a lot of older men get together and have these social, social and intellectual and eating...
Retired older men eating out. Yeah, I love that.
Yeah. So they have a lot of a lot of people I think, move there to meaningfully age. And there was just a lot of examples when I visited of these this wonderful, you know, intergenerational activities.
But you, you say in your book that you describe this essentially as a town free of ageism. Free of ageism. I mean, as we as we discussed, Professor, ageism exists everywhere. Is this really a town free of ageism?
Professor Becca Levy
I think it was. It's a good example of a place that finds many ways to embrace aging and find ways to meaningfully age. Another place that I came across in the book was I learned about a group of grandmothers who live in Zimbabwe. There's a psychiatrist there that set up this friendship bench model, and he draws on the grandmothers of the culture and they actually come to these benches in the town. And there everybody in the town knows when they're going to sit on the bench. And people who have different kinds of issues that are bothering them, they come to the bench to talk to the grandmothers and they actively try to come up with solutions. So the grandmothers are given this role of trying to improve mental health and, you know, reduce these mental challenges of people in the community. And it's been found that their own health benefits, but also the people in the community benefit of all different ages. And so I think it's a really nice example of a culture that embraces positive beliefs and gives a meaningful role to the older members and then the older members serve this great role in the culture and it becomes a cycle of promoting positive beliefs.
Professor Becca Levy
Speaking with Professor Levy and my parents has really helped me reframe the way that I'm thinking about this entire season of the podcast. I began the journey with a little bit of anxiety. Okay, actually a fair amount of anxiety about getting older. But if there's one thing that I'm taking away from all this, it's this belief that there are so many ways to think about aging. It isn't linear. As I mentioned, we tend to have these bursts of aging. It isn't black and white, as many people think. And there are so many misconceptions out there that can have a real effect. They can be damaging mentally and physically as well. I think for me personally, focusing on the positives of getting older does make it a lot easier to feel less paralyzed by the changes that are sure to come. In many ways, as my parents taught me and hopefully, you now, there may be actually better and brighter days ahead. And I think that sense of hopefulness to me is the very key to chasing life.
Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Our podcast is produced by David Rind, Xavier Lopez and Grace Walker. Our Senior producer and showrunner is Felicia Patinkin. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director and the executive producer of CNN Audio is Steve Lickteig. Also a special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealey and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health.