So far, nobody's managed to locate the fabled fountain of youth or discover a secret formula to keep us from aging (though beauty product companies seem to try). In other words, we're all getting older.
But aging isn't something to fear or worry about -- it's a natural process that we actually know quite a lot about. In fact, many of the negative things we hear about what happens as we get older -- and have come to accept as facts -- simply aren't true. These myths and stereotypes can make some people dread the aging process, and they can also negatively affect how we relate to older people.
Here, we'll dispel five common myths about aging and your health that may make you think twice about what it means to get older.
Some people think that if you don't take care of yourself when you're young, there's nothing you can do to fend off health problems later in life. But that's not true. While taking care of your body with exercise and a good diet from a young age does have lasting benefits, getting a late start on a healthy lifestyle can still do the body a world of good -- no matter how late that start may be.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina studied a group of more than 15,000 adults aged 45 to 64. Over four years, they found that of those studied, the ones who adopted a healthy lifestyle (getting regular exercise, adopting good eating habits, maintaining a normal body weight, not smoking) had lower mortality rates and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease than those who didn't. Furthermore, the study noted that one of the reasons many older adults choose not to adopt a healthy lifestyle is that they believe it's too late for it to have much benefit [source: King].
Exercise, even for the advanced of age, has many benefits, including increased muscle strength and improved mobility. It can also help reduce the pain of arthritis. Even if you've never exercised a day in your life, starting in your later years can improve your health [source: Snyderman].
Most of us just assume that forgetfulness and senility come with old age. The truth, however, is that most older people don't experience a significant decline in their mental abilities [source: Zastrow].
Those who do experience a serious loss of memory or cognitive ability are usually affected by a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's. And not all people get Alzheimer's -- about 1 in 8 people over the age of 65 has the disease [source: Alzheimer's Association].
There are more than a hundred other illnesses that can cause memory loss and apparent senility, but many of these are treatable [source: Zastrow]. So while you may forget where you put your keys from time to time, there's a good chance you'll remain sharp well into your golden years.
Studies show that many older adults who experience incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control) attribute it to aging. And since so many people believe it's just a natural consequence of the body's ever-advancing age, many people don't seek treatment for it [source: Locher].
Losing control of your bodily functions is simply not a normal consequence of aging. In fact, it's usually a symptom of some other disease, illness or health issue, meaning that it doesn't just naturally happen on its own. And, according to the National Association For Continence, in about 80 percent of cases urinary incontinence can be cured or improved, so don't stock up on adult diapers just yet [source: National Association For Continence].
Many of us think that once we reach a certain age, we'll inevitably find our way to a dependent care facility, such as a nursing home. But did you know that only about 5 percent of elderly people live in full-time care facilities? Most live on their own in their homes or apartments, and many lead active lives in independent living communities [source: Simmers].
Getting older doesn't always mean you'll have to rely completely on others to help you get by. These days, there are countless options for late-in-life care, ranging from completely independent living to assisted living and full-time care. Furthermore, even if you do need help late in life, that doesn't mean you'll have to rely on impersonal care from strangers. In fact, for those who receive in-home help, 70 percent of the care comes from family and friends [source: Agich].
While it's true that aging does bring with it some physical and psychological changes that can affect your ability and desire to have sex, your sex drive won't disappear entirely as you get older.
Most people experience reduced levels of testosterone as they age. (Testosterone is what gives you your sex drive). However, according to the Mayo Clinic, "most aging men and women produce enough testosterone to maintain their interest in sex."
A survey conducted by the National Council on the Aging found that almost half of people over the age of 60 were having regular sex. What's more, 39 percent wished they were having more sex and 43 percent said that sex is just as good, if not better, than it was when they were younger [source: Leary]. So think about those numbers the next time you worry your sex drive will wane with age.
For more myths about aging, move on to the next page.
How much do you know about the aging process? Test your knowledge with this quiz at HowStuffWorks.
- Agich, George J. "Dependence and Autonomy in Old Age: An Ethical Framework for Long-Term Care." Cambridge University Press. 2003. (May 11, 2011)http://personal.bgsu.edu/~agichg/Articles/IntroCUP.pdf
- Alzheimer's Association. "2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures." Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2011. (May 3, 2011)http://www.alz.org/downloads/Facts_Figures_2011.pdf
- Jones, C. Jessie, and Debra J. Rose. "Physical Activity Instruction of Older Adults." Human Kinetics. 2005.
- King, Dana E. et al. "Turning Back the Clock: Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle in Middle Age." The American Journal of Medicine. April 20, 2007. (May 3, 2011)http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343%2806%2901185-5/fulltext
- Kotz, Deborah. "5 Common Myths About Aging." U.S. News & World Report. Feb. 20, 2009. (May 7, 2011)http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/articles/2009/02/20/5-common-myths-about-aging
- Leary, Warren E. "Older People Enjoy Sex, Survey Says." The New York Times. Sept. 29, 1998. (May 3, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/29/science/older-people-enjoy-sex-survey-says.html
- Locher, Julie L. et al. "Effects of Age and Causal Attribution to Aging on Health-Related Behaviors Associated With Urinary Incontinence in Older Women." The Gerontologist. August 2002. (May 11, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759979/
- Mayo Clinic. "Intimacy and aging: Tips for sexual health and happiness." CNN. Sept. 27, 2005. (May 3, 2011)http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/HA/00035.html
- National Association For Continence. "What is Incontinence?" May 4, 2010. (May 4, 2011)http://www.nafc.org/bladder-bowel-health/
- New England Centenarian Study. "Why Study Centenarians? An Overview." Boston University School of Medicine. June 30, 2010. (May 3, 2011).http://www.bumc.bu.edu/centenarian/overview/
- Simmers, Louise. "Introduction to Health Science Technology." Cengage Learning. 2004.
- Snyderman, Nancy L. "Medical Myths That Can Kill You: And the 101 Truths That Will Save, Extend, and Improve Your Life." Random House Digital. 2008.
- Swanson, Patti C. Wooten. "Financial Caregiving Series for Adult Children of Aging Parents: Understanding Long-Term Care." University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. December 2009. (May 11, 2011)http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8382.pdf
- Zastrow, Charles, and Karen K. Kirst-Ashman. "Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment." Cengage Learning. 2007.