Sent: 27-04-2010 09:32:06
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The Power of Thought & Ageing. Part 2
Last time I was explaining an experiment conducted by Professor Ellen Langer conducted in 1979 to find if changing thought patterns could slow ageing. As I noted last time, unfortunately the results of that research have for some reason not been fully disclosed, until now. I think that like me, you will be surprised at what has now been revealed.
To recap, Professor Langer recruited two groups of men and both be spending a week at a retreat outside of Boston. However, while the first group, the control, really would be reminiscing about life in the 50s, the other half would be in a 'time-warp'. They were surrounded by props from the 50s and asked to act as if it was actually 1959. Despite their fragility, Professor Langer insisted on the removal of any prompt that may lead this second group 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.
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, i.e. they were running around and literally tackling each other. A very different scenario to when they arrived at the retreat.
Sounds fascinating, but what about real data? Did they change physically or was it just their mental approach to life? This is where it gets really interesting.
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. Could be interesting to see whether she adopts the professorial look, or maintains the normal Jennifer Aniston image! Whatever the portrayal is like, it seems that the ideas outlined by John Medina have found emphatic support, years before he came up with his Thesis. A bit like Back To The Future I suppose.
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