Seniors do Tai Chi for exercise and socializing. (Courtesy CDC)

As young people, we all had ideas about what it was like to be old. Most of us have found that it’s not as terrifying as what we expected. 

But there are common myths about aging that deserve a closer look. These are from the National Institute on Aging:

We need less sleep as we age.

Not true. Our sleep needs remain about the same as we age: Seven to nine hours each night. If you’re napping often and not getting enough exercise you will drastically affect your ability to sleep normally. Adequate sleep has multiple benefits including reducing the risk of falls and improving overall well-being.

Older adults should avoid exercise to avoid getting injured.

Exercise and physical activity are vital for mental and physical health and can help manage some chronic conditions. Inactivity is often more dangerous because seniors slowly lose their ability to do things on their own. Explore swimming, walking, Tai Chi and classes available at your local gym and community center. Even gardening and house cleaning can be good for building strength and using a wide variety of muscle groups. If you feel as though you’re losing strength and balance, talk to your doctor about physical therapy that will address these concerns.

Older adults can’t learn new things.

Not true!  Learning new skills, hobbies and games is recommended for seniors because it improves cognitive abilities. Recent studies found that the older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had improved overall memory. And new activities help build new friendships and expand your community.

It’s inevitable that older people will get dementia.

While the risk of dementia grows as people get older, it is not a normal part of aging. Occasionally forgetting an appointment or misplacing keys is mild forgetfulness, and not dementia. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about your memory.

Only women need to worry about osteoporosis.

Although the disease is more common in women than in men, one in five men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. By age 65 or 70, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate. Family history is a factor for both sexes, as well as inadequate calcium and vitamin D and too little exercise. Other factors include low levels of testosterone, too much alcohol, taking certain drugs and smoking.

Some people are too old to quit smoking.

Your health begins to improve immediately when you quit smoking, and it’s never to late to stop. Smokers who have kicked the habit have fewer illnesses, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel better overall. Quitting lowers your risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and lung disease. For help and resources go to:

My blood pressure has gone down, so I can stop taking the medicine.

You should not make changes in your medications without your doctor’s approval. High blood pressure is common in older adults because as we age, our arteries are less elastic. If you’ve been taking medication and it’s working, you can’t assume your blood pressure is now “fixed.”  It may rise again without medication and increase your risk of stroke and kidney disease. Talk to your doctor and be very cautious about all your medications.

There are myths and misconceptions about nearly everything in healthcare, and it’s important to get the latest information to stay healthy. Start with your doctor, but you can also turn to the websites from the CDC and the National Institute on Aging. 

As older adults we still have many of the same interests and the same outlook as when we were younger. Explore your world and discover new games, sports, activities, and adventures. It’s good for you mentally and physically. Work on keeping your life rich and full, and it’s not nearly as terrifying to get older.

Shelly Howell is the author of "Don’t be a Wuss: Inspiration for Creating a Great Life after 60."