Unlike people, the passion for researching the aging process never seems to get old. A raft of recent findings has shed more light on this inevitable part of life — turning up facts that range from the rather encouraging to the truly eye-opening:
1) You get happier as you get older
It may seem counter-intuitive, but people report feeling more content as they age. A new study (based on a 2008 Gallup poll of 340,000 Americans between 18 and 85) found that, "by almost any measure," people become happier in their later years. As 18-year-olds, most people are quite content; then, "life begins to throw curve balls" until age 50, when troubles seem to melt away. The researchers offered few explanations — the original polling was designed simply to measure happiness, not to track the causes behind it.
2) A lousy childhood shortens your life
People who were abused as children, lost a parent, or faced other trauma typically age earlier than those who don't. In a study that measured "how negative emotions and stressful experiences affect known biochemical markers of stress," an Ohio State researcher and others found that "childhood adversity can lead [prematurely] to inflammation and cell aging...."
3) Staying in school lessens the ravages of dementia
English and Finnish researchers who studied the brains of 872 people found that the longer you remain a student, the better equipped you are to fight off symptoms of dementia and other age-associated diseases. Although the brains of better educated people and the gray matter of those who left school sooner showed similar degrees of physical deterioration associated with dementia, the more scholarly group "coped better with the deterioration and showed fewer behavioural signs" of the disease. Overall, "the risk of dementia decreased by 11 per cent for every additional year of education."
4) Soda prematurely ages you
Harvard researchers found that phosphate, the tangy mineral found in fizzy drinks, caused mice to die much earlier than their phosphate-free brethren. In the scientists' study, two groups of mice — one that was genetically engineered to carry heightened levels of phosphate and another that was fed a high-phosphate diet — dropped off dramatically earlier than a third group, whose phosphate levels were normal. A host of maladies is scientifically linked with carbonated beverages, including "brittle bones, pancreatic cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis."
5) Thinking about falling over makes you fall over
Negative thinking can have serious consequences. A study found that elderly people who worry about collapsing fall more frequently. The University of New South Wales in Australia surveyed 500 people between 70 and 90, and found that those in a low-risk group who fretted about toppling over were just as likely to do so as subjects in a high-risk category.