Nostalgia-Induced Youthfulness? Sign Me Up!

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What a treasure I recently happened upon: An episode of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s! There he was, the Pioneer of Fitness with his over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapulted you from your easy chair into jumping jacks before your mind even had a chance to talk yourself out of it. Oh, what nostalgia! In grade school I was mesmerized in front of our black and white TV as Jack, his stately German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne got me ready for a simple, 20-minute workout routine, in which nothing more was needed than my own body, and a few things I had around the house—soup cans for weights, a jump rope, maybe a chair. Then, as a backdrop to the overall exuberance—came the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do. The tempo got faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and would eventually burst into laughter as Jack encouraged her keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.

Watching that show again brought back all kinds of wonderful memories that went beyond Jacks message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point he would pull up a chair, look into the camera and saying something like “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”. Being as I still believed TV was magical and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I ran to get my mother. Of course she resisted, so I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and insisted she do the exercises with me. Eventually, unable to keep up, she too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to do them too—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily, intentional exercise hadn’t even been invented; and had it been no one would have done something so silly because life back then was hard enough and physical on its own terms.

These and more memories came flooding back as I recently watched that episode, and I suddenly I felt a surge of happiness. I sent away for a DVD of old Jack LaLanne TV shows and started exercising to them, simply because they made me happy. I still belly laugh at his his corny jokes, contort my face all over the place like I used to do back in the 50’s when Jack commanded us to exercise our face muscles. Reconnecting to something that made me so joyful in childhood still has the power to bring me right back to simpler times, growing up with my parents and sister in a 4-room third floor flat above my grandfather’s shoe store and down the street from my other grandparent’s little grocery market. One memory spawned another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia may really be the fountain of youth. I’m not talking about external appearance, but rather, when we FEEL younger than our chronological age, studies show that we also feel healthier, more confident about our physical abilities, and more optimistic about our future health. A walk down memory lane can give you that feeling of turning back the clock.

Granted, for a small percentage of people, nostalgia can be equated to a kind of sad longing for something lost in the past. But more recent research shows that for most, nostalgia helps people feel more youthful and promotes a greater sense of well-being. A sentimental affection for one’s past, seems to give us a sense of continuity and a self-perception of youthfulness. Among other benefits this feeling of youthfulness has translated into more positive recovery from illness, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body), and an increased level of strength when performing tasks.

Researchers from North Dakota State University performed three studies that compared participants who were asked to induce nostalgia, by listening to a song they from their childhood, versus the “control” group who were asked to listen to a contemporary song. In all three studies, the older subjects in the nostalgic group—regardless of gender, felt younger than their chronological age. They were also more optimistic about their health, and had a more positive outlook about their current and future health status as compared to the control group.

So the Jack LaLanne effect is not all in my head after all. I didn’t think so. I have since found other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia into my life. Here are some of them:

  1. Music: I regularly listen to my favorite songs from the 60’s and 70’s; both those in Italian and in English that I loved. Gianni Morandi, Sergio Endrigo, Massimo Ranieri, Iva Zanicchi, Mia Martini, Cream, Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Dusty Springfield, and all those wonderful bands from the “British invasion”.
  2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz! It is still as sickening sweet as it was then, but there was a magic to it, which, when I put it on today still happens!
  3. Retro-Dressing: I have a few “retro dresses” that I absolutely love. I found these on Amazon and they are very inexpensive. They are not the quality that will last a decade, but for a couple of seasons, I can look like I Love Lucy if I want to. Oh, Ricky?!!
  4. Old TV Shows: I adore reruns of I love Lucy, the Carol Burnett, Show, I Married Joan, Topper, Leave it to Beaver, Andy of Mayberry, Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour, Lassie, Popeye, The Three Stooges. And of course the yearly event of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still skips when the wicket witch flies onto the scene. We watched that in our little parlor on that Sunday evening. The black and white versions are still the best.
  5. Live in Real (not virtual) Time: I like to spend my free time doing simple things, like I did back then. Forget FaceTime—go make a real time visit. Get up from your computer and start to explore the places you google. Get involved in community theater, go to a discussion group, and art exhibit or a museum. Take a course in a real classroom.
  6. Browse old photo albums: Be careful that this one doesn’t bring you more pain than joy. Select the photos that put a smile on your face, not those that re-open an emotional wound.

Question for my Readers: Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them? Let’s start a conversation!

Reference:

Abeyta, Andrew A., & Routledge, Clay (2016). Fountain of youth: The impact of nostalgia on youthfulness and implications for health. Self and Identity. Vol 15(3) pp. 356-369

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

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