Momisms—my mom said them, your mom probably said them—and I’ve said them too (cringe here)! If you follow current research on longevity and aging…it turns out that Mom was right (who knew?). Here are ten common momisms that match frequently cited research findings on positive aging. Time Magazines’ Longevity Issue (Vol. 187, No. 6-7, Feb 22-29, 2016) provides a summary of much of the current longevity research, and is filled with articles extolling the virtues of the following:
- Eat your vegetables – In her article on longevity (Time, Vol. 187, p. 82), Alexandra Sifferlin reported: “Diet Is by far the most powerful intervention to delay aging and age-related diseases.” Consistent with this claim, a 2014 UCL study reported that “People who ate seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 42% lower risk of death at any point in time than those who ate less than one portion” with “vegetables having a larger effect than fruit”. (Source) Thanks, Mom! Please pass the broccoli!
- Get off of the couch (sometimes translated as “go outside and play”) – Research continues to bombard us with an important message that we can no longer ignore (no matter how hard we try!): Movement and activity are essential not only to our physical health but equally to our mental and emotional well-being. The good news is that small amounts of regular activity, even squirming and wiggling, can make a difference. (Time, Vol. 187, p. 80). Unfortunately, this does cancel out one standard momism: ‘don’t fidget’! Put more harshly, “scientists have shown that sedentary behavior, like sitting all day, is a risk factor for earlier death”. (Time, Vol. 187, p.84) Going even further, a 2011 study claimed that, after age 25, every hour spent watching TV was linked to a deduction of 22 minutes from predicted life expectancy. (Source) Two words come to mind here: uh oh!
- It’s no use crying over spilled milk (or if Mom was a Doris Day fan, ’kay sera sera’) – Research tells us that our bodies’ natural defense mechanisms, that help manage stress, decline as we age. Being able to control stress is a key characteristic of “successful agers”. (Source) Taking this a bit further, don’t you just love how research reporters nonchalantly throw out uncommon terms and then you find yourself nodding in agreement (even though you have no idea what exactly you just read)? For example, Time Magazine also reported, “It is now suspected by scientists that reducing stress may slow biological aging by stabilizing telomeres” (Time, Vol, 187, p.86) To translate the above: elderly people have chromosomes that have replicated many times. Telomeres keep these aging chromosomes from becoming inefficient or harmful. Yup, I definitely had to use my dictionary, plus ask around, to fully understand this one.
- Money doesn’t grow on trees – Financial comfort is frequently cited as a key piece of a happy retirement (and it is often a major area of concern for the retired and the nearly-retired). The good news is that many retirees enjoy happiness while having much less than others because they have (creatively) found ways to “cut their coat by their cloth.”(Source) Time Magazine’s Longevity issue would not be complete without discussing current financial retirement solutions and does so in Dan Kadlec’s Article, “So How am I going to Pay for It?” (Time, Vol. 187, p. 92)
- Do your Homework – In research study after research study, crossing different countries, races, and social-economic factors, the following findings were consistent: increasing the number of years that children went to school was linked to better health and longevity. Dr. Lleras-Muney, who wrote a prize-winning dissertation on this topic, was quoted in the New York Times as stating “life expectancy at age 35 was extended by as much as one and a half years simply by going to school for one extra year.”(Source) The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics supported this claim in their findings that “people with a bachelor’s degree or higher live about nine years longer than people who don’t graduate from high school” (Source). And as Mom knows, doing homework was a great excuse for getting out of doing the dishes!
- Make a Friend (sometimes translated as ‘Play nicely with others’) – Having strong, positive friendships is also solidly linked with longer life. Having friends to turn to decreases social isolation, provides emotional and physical support, helps us to better manage stress and, according to some research, improves our immune systems. (Source) Significantly, positive mindset (momism: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all), and engaging in meaningful activities (momism: if you don’t do it now, then when are you going to do it?) get wrapped up into this category as well.
- Respect your elders – This one surprised me. Research has now found that those of us in middle age, who possess healthy attitudes towards the elderly, fare much better as we age ourselves. Studies have shown that adults, in their 40’s, who demonstrated negative stereotypes of senior citizens, twenty-five years later showed a significantly greater loss in the volume of their hippocampus (and thus significantly greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease) than their more positive peers who took part in the same study. Something else Mom often said, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.
- You just ate an hour ago – Okay, this one I have found myself, as a mom, saying quite a bit. And as it turns out, cutting calories and fasting in our older years (done properly), can result in significant health benefits. Researchers from The University of California’s Longevity Institute found that “when people occasionally fasted, they lowered their risk for age-related diseases.” (Time, Vol. 187, p. 82) This combines with other research supporting the benefits of healthy low-calorie diets in reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease. (Source) Rats! There goes my planned trip to Dairy Queen!
- Isn’t it past your bedtime? (or ‘Just go to bed!”) The National (US) Heart, Lung and Blood Association has confirmed that ongoing lack of sleep is linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. (Source) While it is often commonly believed that we require less sleep as we age, this belief is untrue according to The National (US) Sleep Foundation. (Source) Although this news may be disconcerting to many, it is of great comfort to those of us who love our beds (what better excuse to sleep in?).
- I will always love you (sometimes translated as “Call me when you get there”). It is widely accepted that nurturing and supportive family relationships can decrease stress levels. Research has also found that, in retirement, such relationships can provide us with stimulation, purpose, a sense of connection and the validation that may now be missing from the workplace. (Source, Source). Nowhere else is the strength of this bond more poignant than in the countless stories of grown men in battlefields calling out for the warmth, strength and protection of their mothers’ love. (Source)
Thanks, Mom, for the great advice and for the ahead-of-your time wisdom. I will always love you too!
Top Photo: A current snapshot of Mom and me
Bottom Photo: (Viewers Left to Right) Me, my mom and my sister (53 years ago)