How Your Attitude Towards Aging Can Save Your Life

Pictured: David Lereah, Source: Peak House, Greater Fool Blog

Dr. David Lereah (62) is a well-respected economist, a notable author, and a business entrepreneur. Formerly a Fairfax county resident, he was chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association and then later assumed the same role at National Association of Realtors. With a cancer diagnosis, his life took a turn and his focus changed from being an expert on real estate and investing to harnessing the power of positive aging. Dr. Lereah founded United We Age, and released “The Power of Positive Aging,” which describes his uphill battle with cancer and how positivity saved his life.

A few years ago, Dr. Lereah was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer. On that day, the doctor assured him that it was going to be the most difficult challenge of his life and that there are no guarantees. He admits he was quite scared that day. As he left the room, a nurse he was familiar with looked at him and said, “David, You CAN beat this. It is only an inconvenience in your life.” And that really rang a bell for him.

The nurse’s uplifting words were life changing for David — helping him to shift the way he dealt with his illness, how he looked at his life, and the way he currently deals with aging.

Battling Illness with the Right Attitude

As a result of his cancer, doctors had to cut half of David’s stomach out and half of his esophagus is gone. He admits he has some physical limitations and some endurance issues, yet he has a positive outlook and these things “don’t bother him.” Dr. Lereah used to play tennis and golf, but he can no longer do so. That doesn’t stop him from walking 10,000 – 20,000 steps a day (5+ miles).

Dr. Lereah feels he is doing so well because of his attitude. He believes, “(I)f you have cancer (or another life-threatening illness) and survive, savor your life. Staying alive is a wonderful concept but embracing life is a better one.” He shares some of his suggestions for positive, successful aging in his book and through his United We Age nonprofit group. These are some of his ideas:

  • Aging can be broken down into three aging “rooms,” which he calls the “Positive Aging Room,” the “Practical Aging Room,” and “God’s Waiting Room.”
    • Most of us are in the “Practical Aging Room,” and we are trying to age gracefully. Many people in the Practical Aging Room have a bucket list of things they still want to do to find full meaning in life. Still, these people will likely have some bouts of anxiety over thinking about mortality and possibly depression on occasion when something significant happens, such as a serious physical or mental decline. Most in this category may not be prepared to handle a serious situation, and should take the time to think about it and plan to reduce anxiety.
    • People in the “Positive Aging Room” realize that aging can be a magnificent reality if you appreciate every moment in life, have a positive attitude, and learn to adapt to physical and mental decline. According to Dr. Lereah, “(d)on’t dwell on the marks of aging— if your knees break, use a walker; if your ears break, use a hearing aid. This is your encore, make the best of it.”
    • And people in “God’s Waiting Room” may sit and wait for their name to be called to leave this life. According to Dr. Lereah, “they’re bitter and show little energy or interest in the world around them. They’re usually indifferent about their lives.”
  • Follow a Road Map: As individuals, we possess varying levels of physical, mental, and emotional strengths and weaknesses. The objective is to follow a road map for aging and make adjustments in your life, so you can better cope with life-threatening disease as well as changes to your appearance, bodily functions and mental health. According to Dr. Lereah, “(d)uring my battle with cancer, I discovered a number of activities and practices that helped me immensely. He found the building blocks for a foundation for successful and positive aging to be social support, spirituality, mindfulness, positivity, and balance.
  • Getting older is not all “doom and gloom”: Parents and educators teach children how to be successful in careers or trades, but they don’t teach us how to be successful at 70, 80, or 90 years old. No one teaches us how to deal with life-threatening disease, or even less serious things such as wrinkles, failing eyesight, deteriorating mobility, and memory loss. Most of us don’t learn how to deal with the anxiety and depression that sometimes accompanies aging.

Aging is a lifelong process and physical and mental decline occurs all throughout the lifespan. With the right attitude (e.g., a healthy spirit), aging can bring about much joy and many rewards.

  • It takes practice to become positive. We have 50,000 – 70,000 unconscious thoughts a day and for most people, 80% of them are negative. It takes practice to become positive. It is worth it though, as positive aging is incredibly good for our health and well-being. In fact, according to a 2019 study, positive thinking can result in an 11-15% longer lifespan and can increase your likelihood of living to eighty-five 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, so there is scientific backing, as well.
  • Balance is critical. “When you’re out of balance, you’re stressed, you have anxiety, sometimes depression. A balanced life means you’re more at peace. If you keep the same expectations as you had as a younger person, you will be way out of balance and very frustrated. You need to revise your expectations and live in a world of possibilities. Whenever I have an ailment, I am always saying: ‘I am more than my physical body.’ It just makes me feel better,” says Dr. Lereah.

Dr. Lereah offers examples of the following things he does to age positively:

  • “Get enough sleep.” That’s often very difficult for a lot of older people.
  • “The real key is to reduce anxiety and depression and calm your fears.”
  • “If you’ve never meditated before, just do five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. A lot of us who do meditation have apps for that on our smart phones, like Headspace or Calm. They take you through the meditations to reduce anxiety.”
  • “If people want to pray, that works as well. If you pray in groups, it’s energizing.”
  • “Just as you exercise your physical body to gain strength and stay healthy and fit, your brain/mind also needs to be exercised.”

Plan Ahead for Peace of Mind

Peace of mind is a big part of lessening anxiety as we grow older. If you don’t have your estate planning, incapacity planning, or long-term care planning in place, please call us to set up an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation to create necessary documents and have peace of mind. For those who feel safer in their homes, we offer phone appointments, video conference appointments, and curbside signings (but we are still open for in-person meetings and signings for those who desire it, of course with everybody wearing appropriate face coverings):

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

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