Senior Stereotypes Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Benjamin Goode is a Senior Fitness Consultant, medical writer and educator. Ben publishes a website called and a blogs at The website provides older adults with practical health and fitness information. In 1972, Mr. Goode founded and published the American Journal of Sports Medicine – the first professional American journal dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries. This journal is now the official journal of The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the infirmities of old age. The sad result is that the oldsters themselves start to believe them. Then, they use these fallacies as excuses for not exercising and not following a sensible diet.

“I’m just too old and out of shape for that sort of thing” says a 65 year-old, retired accountant. He’s gained more than twenty-five pounds in the last few years and finds it difficult to get around. He takes medication for hypertension and he’s been told by his doctor to reduce his dietary intake of sugar, salt and fats. He complains of being tired all the time and has lapsed into a sedentary lifestyle. He’s a victim of That Ol’ Rockin’ Chair’s Got Me syndrome.

Like Voodoo

There’s a medical term for these damaging myths. They’re called nocebos. They’re the opposite of placebos which mean, “do no harm”. A nocebo is something you think will do you harm. If someone in authority tells you a certain something will cause you harm, the chances are – it will. Kinda like voodoo. This is true of foods, drugs or behavior. So, don’t listen to those who tell you to “take it easy” or “don’t exert yourself” or “act your age.” They’re just handing you a lot of – nocebos.

Our accountant should be armed with the facts about exercise, – that it can increase his metabolic rate so that he can “burn” more calories efficiently; that it can lower his blood pressure and heart rate; that it can add muscle mass and improve his strength and balance. That way, he’ll gain more energy and be able to reverse the downward spiral of “being too out of shape for exercise.”

Dangerous Advice

Rhonda is another “nocebo victim”. She never has been very active throughout her quiet life in a small town in North Carolina. She sits at home most of the day, afraid to do the small bit of gardening she used to enjoy. She just turned 60 and has been diagnosed with chronic, congestive heart failure. She’s been told by friends and relatives not to exert herself – well-meaning advice that can turn out to be deadly. She’s afraid that if she does anything “too strenuous” she’ll suffer a heart attack.

What Rhonda doesn’t know is that a well-planned exercise program can actually improve her cardiovascular function.

Studies have shown that if Rhonda persists in her nocebo behavior, i.e., sitting on the sofa, then she’d better start getting her affairs in order.

Word to the Wise

When faced with a physical challenge, don’t say, “well, I guess I’m just getting too old.” That’s a philosophy of defeat. Instead, turn your “Golden Years” into “Victory Years”. Refuse to allow those discriminatory stereotypes define who you are. Seek every opportunity to do what you can as well as you can. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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