Curiosity and humor help slow aging

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Gannett News Service

Growing old begins around fourth grade.
The characteristics that keep us young “” curiosity, wonder, play, acting silly “” begin to get subverted then, says Ronda Beaman, 53 and mother of two and the author of “You’re Only Young Twice: 10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit” (VanderWyk & Burnham, $14.95).
“By then, most children learn what it takes to get good grades. They start playing the game. The characteristics of joy and wonder are just ‘poof,'” says Beaman, president of Second Wind Inc., a midlife coaching firm.
Beaman’s own search for forestalling the march of time began on the brink of her 40th birthday. While a friend got a face-lift, Beaman found her elixir in a used-book store. It was a copy of anthropologist Ashley Montagu’s 1988 book “Growing Young.” Montagu introduced her to neoteny, the idea that human beings are built to grow and develop their childhood traits rather than minimize them.
“Simply put, neoteny is the process of growing young,” Beaman says.
Traits such as playfulness, curiosity, singing, dancing, loving, being creative, being joyful, laughing and crying “” commonly associated with childhood “” prolong youthfulness, she says.
Those traits are frequently used to describe older adults who are seen as thriving. Arizona State University gerontologist Kathleen Waldron says research long has shown that older people who are active are happier and healthier than those who are not active. A recent study among older women indicates that a love of learning, intellectual curiosity and creativity engender a youthful spirit, Waldron says.

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