I'm OK, You're OK. Pass the Tapioca

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All right, kids: Go call your grandparents and tell them they are wise, witty and wonderful. You may help keep them healthy. According to a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, elderly people who encounter positive images and feedback about aging may actually function better than those who encounter negative stereotypes. Experiments conducted at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston yielded results that further the theory that physical health is very much affected by a person's state of mind. In part of the study, two groups of elderly people were asked to walk down a long hallway, and their gait and speed were measured. Then, each participant played a short video game, during which positive words (like "astute") were flashed at subconscious speed to half the subjects; negative words (like "senile") were flashed to the other half.

After the videogame, each person walked back down the hallway, and the same measurements were taken. Participants exposed to positive words had a noticeable spring in their step, researchers say, and were steadier on their feet, while those who registered the negative words moved at their pre-game pace. "Of course," says TIME medical writer Christine Gorman, "positive self-image alone isn't enough to get you through your old age in good shape," she says. "But these results are logical: If you have a positive sense of self, you are more likely to exercise and to take care of yourself." Specific types of fitness routines are important as we age, adds Gorman. "Studies have shown strength training leads to improved balance, which is crucial to older people, because so often, falls are what land elderly people in the hospital."