“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” ~Mark Twain
OK friends, here's a question for you: how do you feel about aging?
Does this question make you feel a bit nauseous or are you happily oblivious to time marching on?
I never thought about it much until it started to happen. Now I feel like I'm trying to catch a runaway train. For so long I considered myself young. Then I had teenagers, and they kindly remind me daily that I'm not. The strange thing is, I still feel young inside. Sometimes I'll pass my reflection in a window and wonder, “Who is that woman staring at me?” Then I realize it's me, and I can hardly believe it. When did I get here?
When we are truly young (say under 30), we think aging will never happen to us. But then little changes occur, and one day we wake up and have to acknowledge, “Damn. I'm not young anymore.” When this moment happens, we can do one of three things:
1. Fight it tooth and nail.
2. Accept its inevitability.
3. Just live.
As different points, I have fluctuated between the first two reactions. Just living and enjoying life without worrying about aging is difficult in our particular culture.
We receive strange mixed messages about health and aging both in the media and with society in general. One the one hand, youth is celebrated, venerated, and emulated by people old enough to know better. The cosmetics and plastic surgery industries are making millions off of our insecurities and longings to hang on to our youthful faces and bodies.
I'm not against self-improvement, but it seems like the media, Hollywood, and the beauty industry all are conspiring to make us hate every blemish and wrinkle. If we pull our faces tight enough, can we really fool people into believing we are twenty again? Who are we kidding?
On the other hand, there's another reality that sends a different signal . . .
- Only 16% of Americans get some form of exercise every day.
- Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight.
- Nearly 21% of all adults still smoke.
- A study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis reveals that Americans are getting nearly one-third of their calories from junk foods: soft drinks, sweets, desserts, alcoholic beverages, and salty snacks.
- The average American gets over seven percent of their calories from soft drinks alone, which most certainly accelerates both obesity and diabetes.
- According to Consumer Reports National Research Center, 30% of Americans don't use sunscreen at all, even though they know the risk of skin cancer. And most people who do use it don't apply it properly.
This is so disheartening when we know so much about preventable diseases, ways to stay fit and healthy, and proper diet and nutrition. We could be doing so much better for ourselves.
Even so, in the last one hundred years, the average life expectancy has gone from ages 52 (men) and 60 (women) to the current average of 74 (men) and 80 (women). Advances in medicine and our shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy has added to our longevity. Middle age used to be old age. Now middle age is getting younger all the time (at least that's what I keep telling myself!)
We live in an age with better medical care, more access to health information, and fewer physical demands than ever before in history, yet we shorten our lives with unhealthy behaviors or spend thousands to try to conceal, cut off, or suck out any offending body part.
To add another wrinkle to this tale, some biologists are now suggesting that aging isn't inevitable. It's a treatable disease that can be managed so that we can live healthier and longer. Much longer.
Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a British researcher and author of Ending Aging, asserts that the first person to live to age 1000 (yes, 1000) is alive today. He suggests that the fundamental knowledge necessary to develop effective anti-aging medicine already exists, but that the science is ahead of the needed funding. Not only will we live longer, but we won't be frail. We can remain youthful, healthy, and active.
“In the same way we can keep vintage cars and airplanes, or whatever, in fully functioning condition for as long as we like by maintaining them comprehensively enough, similarly, we can, in principle, do the same for the really complicated machine that we call the human body,” suggest Dr. de Grey.
If you'd like to learn more about his assertions, look at his presentation at the TED conference. (Be warned, he looks like Methuselah and talks very fast. But he's fascinating.)
If Dr. de Grey and other biologists are correct, many of you reading this will live well past 100. And that opens up a myriad of other questions, both personal and societal.
- If we are living longer, what does that do to the world population — and to the future of our planet?
- What impact will it have on our economy?
- How long will we work? Is retirement even necessary?
- Will everyone be able to afford these longevity treatments or will we create a class of super-humans?
- Do we even want to live that long?
One thing seems clear — we have very convoluted feelings about our bodies and getting older. After spending a few years of inner turmoil myself about getting older, I think I've settled on a personal philosophy about life and aging that works for me. Maybe it will work for you.
I try to stay up-to-speed on healthy eating, exercise, medical breakthroughs, disease prevention, and other information that will keep me healthy and active.
Take care of myself
I incorporate what I learn about a healthy lifestyle into my daily life. I stay away from what I know is bad for me (for the most part) and am proactive about doing things that are good for me.
Exercise for fun
I've spent years trying various exercise routines that are boring or painful. Now I exercise for fun. I like to bike, walk, hike. I don't worry as much about perfection with my body. I just want to be fit.
Eat wisely and in moderation
I know the foods that are good for me, and I try to eat more of them. I know the foods that are bad for me, and I try to eat less of them. I know that smaller portions will fill me up just fine. Sometimes I slip up, but I don't obsess about it.
Keep having fun
I've spent way too much time worrying about unnecessary stuff. There is too much in life to enjoy and savor. I think I enjoy having fun. It makes you feel younger.
Dress young but not ridiculous
I like fashionable clothes, but there's a fine line between dressing youthfully and looking silly. I have teenagers who help keep me on the right side of that line!
Hang with younger people
You can learn so much from them.
Hang with older people
You can learn so much from them.
I really enjoy learning, but in the past, I've avoided learning things that seemed intimidating — like technology. It is good for your brain and your soul to tackle something and grasp it. I would have missed so much if I continued to resist learning because of fear.
Don't discuss ailments
Nothing screams old more than discussing your painful joints, your digestive track, and your failing eyesight. Why give verbal reinforcement to those problems anyway?
For now there isn't a magic cure for wrinkles and sagging skin. I could go get Botox or injections or plastic surgery. But I don't really want to spend my time or money that way. So I choose not to obsess about it. I stay active and busy and try to spend time with others who aren't too obsessed about aging either.
Most people in the world are not physically perfect. Comparing ourselves to celebrities and models is futile. I've decide to be my imperfect self and love that person.
My friend and fellow blogger, Christopher Foster, believes you can be fit, productive, and thriving at any stage of life. At age 79, he is an author, spiritual coach, and has created a beautiful course called The True Promise of Aging. You can read his amazing personal story here.
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