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Linking Mental Fitness and Healthy Aging

 

Life is a continuum from conception until death, with different stages of development and aging occurring simultaneously and continuously.

Sandra Cusack and Wendy Thompson

A new study by Sandra Cusack and Wendy Thompson of Simon Fraser University, BC, has linked seven mental fitness practices to healthy aging.

They are:

setting personal goals
power thinking
creativity
learning and memory
speaking your mind
positive mental attitude, and
willingness to risk.

The Mental Fitness for Life Program

Based on these seven practices, the researchers developed the Mental Fitness for Life Program consisting of a series of eight intensive workshops where participants learn how “ageist” attitudes and beliefs about declining mental abilities restrict their potential for a vital, healthy old age. People learn how to set and achieve meaningful goals, to change negative beliefs into positive ones, to think creatively, to appreciate diversity and different perspectives, and to take risks that enrich their lives.

The program was offered to people in a seniors’ center on the west coast of Canada, who were concerned about memory and wanted to improve their mental abilities. The participants ranged in age from 50 to 92 years and came from diverse employment and educational backgrounds.

The findings show significant improvement in participants’ level of fitness, confidence in mental abilities, setting and achieving goals, optimism, creativity, flexibility, memory and ability to speak one’s mind as well as reduced depression.

Learning Benefits that Last

Follow-up monthly seminars offered for those who took the introductory course showed the seminars functioned much like a booster shot that enabled graduates to maintain mental fitness as they aged. This finding echoes other studies that suggest learning can serve as a vaccination against late-life brain diseases.

Mental Fitness for Life: 7 Steps to Healthy Aging by Sandra Cusack & Wendy Thompson is published by Key Porter Books.