ASU researcher says nostalgia linked to healthy aging

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As we grow older, we tend to reflect back on memories we once created at some point in our lives. We look at scrapbooks, read postcards and mull over old photos. There’s no denying it can make us feel better and bring back feelings of warmth and safety. Now, research is suggesting that nostalgia can actually affect healthy aging over time. But the question is, how does it work?

ASU researcher Julie Fleury joined us this week on Arizona Horizon. Fleury is studying nostalgia and the impact it can have on healthy aging. In her interview, she talked to us about how it all works.

According to Frontiers in Psychology, it’s said that we tend to experience nostalgia across different stages in our lives as we continue to grow older. Research has said that nostalgia can cultivate in making people feel safe as it’s related to a source of feeling comfort.

What exactly is nostalgia?

The New Oxford Dictionary of English describes nostalgia assentimental longing or wistful affection for the past” (The New Oxford Dictionary of English,Fleury describes it as “a bittersweet emotion, a positive self-referential, reliving of the past. Rather than just remembering, it’s feeling, it’s memories of home, warmth, comfort and love. It can actually help our healthy aging.”

So what triggers nostalgia?

As Fleury put it, there is a mechanism inside our body that brings together our heart, brain, muscles and face to be able to flash back to these memories and stories.

“What we found is that given the links between the heart and the brain, and cues of safety, is that this is a mechanism that can be exercised, if you will. And it can strengthen social, physiological and emotional outcomes over time,” said Fleury.

How can nostalgia lead to healthy aging?

So, how does this help with aging? Nostalgia engages safety cues, thereby cultivating feeling safe and contributing to regulatory capabilities to support healthy aging. Nostalgia can help improve many different aspects of life.. It can strengthen things like motivation, which can help promote social and physical functioning. And that’s essential for our well-being later on in our lives.

According to the American Psychological Association, “nostalgia is an emotional experience that unifies.” It can actually help unite our sense of who we are, our self, and our identity over time. 

Why is this so important?

Well, the population of older adults worldwide is growing rapidly. In fact. the number of people aged 60 years and older constitute 13% of the global population and is expected to double by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. The need is greater than ever to find things that lead to health aging. Experts say feeling safe can be central to healthy aging. 

Nostalgia is a precious resource for older adults, as it can be accessed at any time, even when social opportunities might be are limited. Older adults face physical and emotional challenges in pursuit of healthy aging. However, many also possess many rich, nostalgic memories to cultivate feeling safe in support of healthy aging. In nostalgia, older adults navigate the future by reflecting on the past. By doing so, they find safety in sources such as familiar patterns and coherence, continuity in the sense of self or relationships, and affectionate close bonds. So grab that photo album and dig our your old pictures. Looking backward can be beneficial to your future.

You can read more about Fleury’s research online.

Julie Fleury, ASU researcher

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