Our thoughts affect our bodies. Profoundly.

If you don’t believe me try this: Sit down quietly right now and think of a lemon. Imagine slicing it in half and slowly squeezing it into a glass. Now imagine drinking the juice. What did you experience?

Unless you are some sort of robot, you probably experienced an increase in saliva in your mouth as your body prepared for drinking the lemon juice. This is just one very simple way to illustrate just how much our thoughts affect our physical bodies.

The effect of our thoughts works in other areas of our lives too, but for now I will just focus on our bodies.

Ever approached a bar-bell thinking “I’m so tired today, I can’t lift that…” only to feel like it’s bolted to the floor? Or conversely, not realizing quite how much weight is on the bar and lifting it with ease just because you believed it was light and that you could? I know this has happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to others many times.

So what does this have to do with aging? EVERYTHING! We’re told from a young age that we all deteriorate as we get older, that our athletic life pretty much ends at 40, that we will be infirm and disease-ridden after 60. And you know what? All those things then happen to so many people. We subscribe to those beliefs and sure enough our bodies follow along with those thoughts.

But does it have to be that way?

I would like to suggest not. Surely if we can program our bodies negatively, we can also do the same with positive reinforcements. Or simply by NOT subscribing to the negative thinking. We’ve all received an embossed invite to the “Getting Old Sucks” party. Instead of immediately saying yes and buying the outfit, why can’t we try politely declining!

The following experiment was carried out in the fall of 1981 by a psychologist named Ellen Langer:

Eight men in their 70s (a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes) were taken to a converted monastery in New Hampshire. This monastery had been converted into a time warp. As soon as the men entered the door they hear Perry Como crooning on a vintage radio, Ed Sullivan welcomed them on a black and white TV and everything inside – including books on the shelves and the magazines laying around – were from the year 1959. The men were to stay in this environment for five days.

The subjects were in good health, but visibly aging. They were each tested on measures such as dexterity, grip strength, flexibility, hearing, vision, memory and cognition. Langer predicted the numbers would be quite different after 5 days.

The outcome: After their stay the men were tested again and compared with a control group who had also stayed at the monastery previously, but who hadn’t imagined themselves back in the skin of their younger selves. According to the study “These men were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.” Read the full story here.

This was after just 5 DAYS of changing the way they thought.

Imagine what a life time of beliefs and thinking could do. This explains all the phenomenal outliers of aging we see in cultures where people regularly make it pass 100 and remain in excellent health.

Sure, I’d say there is some genetic predisposition to aging well, but I’d wager that our thoughts (and by extension how we treat our bodies) has a far more profound effect on how we end up navigating those later years in life. Our genetics only provide the OPTION for how our bodies develop. We get to determine which of these genes is switched on or off depending on our life-styles and mindsets.

So, just as our food, exercise, sleep, stress levels, sun exposure etc, can influence the epigenetic manifestation of our genes, so can our thoughts.

So where do the majority of our thoughts come from? From our beliefs. Whatever we believe to be true, we spend a LOT of time thinking about.

All we have to do is change our beliefs, and thus our thoughts, and our lives will begin to look very different. Easy right? If only. Sadly our beliefs have usually been shaped by years of programming and mostly pretty well established in us from childhood. This then requires a lot of conscious “de-programming” to undo. But the good news is that it IS possible.

Ok, so what does this have to do with milestone birthdays? As Dr Christiane Northrup says When we focus on the milestone “… the milestone becomes a millstone. In our culture, it says you’re running out of time. You only have so much left.”

You reach 40, and it’s understood that you’ve hit the big scary stage of MID LIFE. It’s all “downhill” from there and you’re basically counting down the years until death. How many times do you hear people saying “oh no I can’t do that at my age!” or “yeah, my body just isn’t what it used to be”.

These comments, though seemingly innocuous, reveal a pretty insidious set of beliefs, all of which are constantly setting the stage for how our bodies look, feel and perform as we get older.

Celebrate birthdays, absolutely! Mark the day as a celebration of all you’ve achieved in the last year and an acknowledgement of the day you were born. Just stop focusing on the number of your age. And certainly stop focusing on the beliefs surrounding that number!

Once we take away the constructs our culture has put around aging, we can literally change how our bodies age. Yes, we will all get older, and no, I am not saying we will live forever looking like we’re 25 (unless you’re Sham of course). What I AM saying is that we can hugely impact HOW we age and how our bodies look and feel as we do so.

We see this in CrossFit all the time. Go watch some of the Masters competitions – men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s, performing athletically in ways many 20 something year olds wish they could perform.

Age is just a number – it can mean whatever we want it to mean.

So next time you’re working out alongside someone younger than you, say “Lucky me, I’ve got way more experience!”, and kick their ass.