The Art of Aging HAPPY

Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D.

Okay I admit it: Yes, I purchased an entire season of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s on DVD.  I loved him then and I love him now.  Jack was a pioneer of fitness with an over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapults me from my easy chair right into a set of crazy jumping jacks before my mind even has a chance to talk myself out of it. I feel like I’m back in my grade school years when I watch the repeats of his show. There I was glued to our little black and white TV with the famous “Glamor Stretcher” in hand as Jack, his German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne took me through 20 frenzied minutes of a workout routine, to the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do.  The tempo gets faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and eventually bursts into laughter as Jack continues to coax her to keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.  

Watching the Jack LaLanne Show today brings back all kinds of wonderful memories that go beyond a message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point Jack pulls up a chair, looks into the camera and says “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”.  Believing in the magic of TV and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I would run to get my mother. When she resisted,  I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and make her do the exercises with me. In that moment I would become Jack and she Elaine.  Eventually, unable to keep up, Mom too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to work out—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily,  programmed exercise was never a “thing”; as life  in the “old country” was hard enough and plenty active.

So many happy memories come flooding back with the nostalgia of the Jack LaLanne show! I still belly laugh at Jack’s  corny jokes, and contort my face all over the place when Jack leads us in exercises for 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 spawns another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia really can have the power to be our fountain of youth.  And 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. In short, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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 about our lives, 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 thought of some other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia your own life. Here are some of them:

1.Nostalgic Music: For me, it  was 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”. What will you put on your nostalgic playlist?

2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I recently located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz!  Albeit cheap and sickening sweet there was a magic to it, that all comes back to me when I take a whiff: A boy I might have had a crush on then; a girlfriend I might have snuck out to a dance with, etc.   What product or artifact brings make happy memories from your past?

3. Retro-Dressing:  Online or antique shops often offer jewelry or clothing pieces that have history—and my reconnect you with your own life history. I once found a dress that could have easily been worn on the  I Love Lucy show. Oh, where are you, my Ricky?!!  You may have an article of clothing or piece of jewelry (like your grandfather’s pocket watch etc) that makes you feel happy when you wear it—or even just look at it. I would love to know what it is; please let us know it the comments below!

4. Old TV Shows Have you ever set aside an evening to watch reruns of shows like 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 showing of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still beats furiously when the wicked witch flies onto the scene!  You may watch these shows or old movies on YouTube, the Turner Classic Movie Channel, or even order them online. The black and white versions are still the best. What are your favorites?

5. Living in Real (not virtual) Time: Since the pandemic (at least for now) seems to have calmed in some locations, whenever possible and safe to do so I like to spend my free time doing old-fashioned activities. Like visiting a friend with a batch of cookies, or shopping at an open-air market. Even taking an adventure drive to explore a new city.   You can also get involved in community theater, go to a library discussion group, or take a guided tour at an art museum. What have you been able to safely do recently that you used to enjoy in the past or in your pre-computer days?

6. Browse old photo albums: I occasionally like to look at photos that put a smile on my face; especially remembering the good times we shared when my grandparents were alive, or when we went on family outings when our kids were small.  What favorite photos of the past bring joy to your heart?

Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them?  Would love to hear your thoughts! 

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, 2021

2 thoughts on “Can Nostalgia Be Our Fountain of Youth?

  1. LuAnn Fraulo says:

    Great article Raeleen. Our reunion must have been an inspiration. Kathy Widger brought some pictures from grammar school to high school. There were some good laughs. My mother and her friends would exercise to Jake, quite a site! Thanks for that memory of them jumping around the living room. I also love the 70s channel on SiriusXM!

    Like

    1. Oh your mother and her friends jumped around the living room to that corny organ music too? What a great memory, LuAnn! I also had his record (in case the show wasn’t on) and his Glamor Stretcher. He even pulled tugboats with his teeth all the way through his later years. Our reunion was just wonderful, wasn’t it? And so great to see you and to know your cousin is doing well!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: