Sent: 20-04-2010 10:07:06
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Can the Power of Thought Stop You Ageing?
I came across an article recently that was astounding. It confirmed much of what Dr John Medina has been talking about with his 12 Brain Rules. In the article it asked if the Power of Thought could stop the Ageing process. Sounds preposterous, but in fact, the research proves it is possible.
In 1979 psychologist Ellen Langer carried out an experiment to find if changing thought patterns could slow ageing. Sadly the results of that research have for some reason not been fully disclosed, until now.
As the BBC reporter Abigail Williams notes, many people would laugh at the idea that people could influence the state of their health in old age by positive thinking. Controlling and/or mitigating ageing is a holy grail for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry, but an experiment by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer late seventies suggests it may be possible after all.
Professor Langer has spent her entire career investigating the power our mind has over our health. Conventional medicine is frequently accused of treating them as separate entities but, as Professor Langer states:
"Everybody knows in some way that our minds affect our physical being, but I don't think people are aware of just how profound the effect actually is".
In 1979, Prof Langer conducted a ground-breaking experiment where she recruited a group of elderly men all in their late 70s or 80s for what she described as a "week of reminiscence". They were not told they were taking part in a study into ageing, an experiment that would transport them 20 years back in time. The aim of the experiment was to see that if she could put the mind back 20 years, would the body follow suite, at least part of the way.
The men were split into two groups and both be spending a week at a retreat outside of Boston. Howsever, while the first group, the control, really would be reminiscing about life in the 50s, the other half would be in a 'timewarp'. They were surrounded by props from the 50s and asked to act as if it was actually 1959.
They watched films, listened to music from the time and had discussions about Castro marching on Havana and the latest Nasa satellite launch, all in the present tense. Professor Langer believed she could reconnect their minds with their younger and more vigorous selves by placing them in an environment connected with their own past lives.
For this to work she insisted on the removal of any prompt that may lead them to behave as anything but healthy individuals. The retreat was not equipped with rails or any gadgets that would help older people. Right from the off she was determined to ensure they looked after themselves. In this vein, when they got off the bus at the retreat, no one helped the men carry their suitcases in. They were told they could move their cases an inch at a time if necessary.
The men were entirely immersed in an era when they were 20 years younger.
But there were risks and doubts raised. As Langer said, "when these people came to see if they could be in the study and they were walking down the hall to get to my office, they looked like they were on their last legs."
But soon the men were making their own meals. They were making their own choices. They weren't being treated as incompetent or sick. Pretty Langer could see a difference. Over the days, Professor Langer began to notice that they were walking faster and their confidence had improved. By the final morning one man had even decided he could do without his walking stick.
As they waited for the bus to return them to Boston, Professor Langer asked one of the men if he would like to play a game of catch, within a few minutes it had turned into an impromptu game of "touch" American football.
Sounds good, but what about real data? Professor Langer took physiological measurements both before and after the week and found the men improved across the board. Their gait, dexterity, arthritis, speed of movement, cognitive abilities and their memory was all measurably improved. Not only that their blood pressure dropped and, even more surprisingly, their eyesight and hearing got better. Both groups showed improvements, but the experimental group improved the most.
Professor Langer believes that by encouraging the men's minds to think younger their bodies followed and actually became "younger". She first published the scientific data in 1981 but she left out many of the more colourful stories. As a young academic, she feared this might taint the experiment and affect the acceptance of the results. Now after over 30 years of research into the connection between the mind and the body and with the confidence and conviction of a Harvard professor, she feels she has a fuller story to tell.
"My own view of ageing is that one can, not the rare person but the average person, live a very full life, without infirmity, without loss of memory that is debilitating, without many of the things we fear."
In any event there is likely to be more interest in the 1979 experiment. The retelling of the study has been snapped up by Jennifer Aniston's new production company, with Aniston tipped to play Prof Langer.
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