The beauty of aging
I’ve written about aging before, but I continue to hear people moaning about growing old. Aside from death and maybe taxes, this seems to be the thing that troubles people most. Does it have to be like this? Do people think life is basically over after they hit a certain age? And if so, what’s that age? Who determines that? Is it possible to age successfully? Researchers have been trying to agree on what constitutes successful aging for decades. Science has taught us that physical decline is not just a result of getting older – it’s a result of being less active as we age. Your metabolism, for instance, does not crash all on its own once you hit the second half of life: the decline that many people see is related to their slow drift away from physical activity, such as taking the elevator over the stairs or ditching their more strenuous hobbies in favor of quiet ones. And you can hang on to muscle mass and bone density well into your later years by training correctly.
Determine your own criteria
Many researchers believe that you’re aging successfully if you’re still independent or you’re learning new things or have excellent coping skills. But what’s great is that we can add our own characteristics and criteria. In other words, we get to decide ourselves. For example, you are successful if you’re satisfied with your life, or you’re financially secure, or you still have a sense of humor. The options are numerous. Aging allows us to tap into the vast experience that we’ve accumulated over the years. Elders in many cultures are highly respected and valued for what they can share with younger people.
Aging is positive
As for me, I define successful aging as staying positive, maintaining a growth mindset, continuing to seek out new challenges, exercising my body and my brain, having a purpose, continuing to learn and staying open to change. I’m in my 70s and exploring and enjoying more opportunities than ever! Aging is a positive natural process. We get older, of course, but we don’t have to feel or think old! If we stop believing that our age-number determines our behavior, then we can be and feel as young as we “think” we are. Gray hair or no hair doesn’t mean fading away. You can still be young at heart despite a body that might be characterized as “high mileage” or “vintage.” Watch out for people of any age with old attitudes. They’re the worst enemies of the young at heart.
Move it or lose it
Keep exercising! I can’t stress that enough! Yes, it probably seems as if people have been telling you this from the day you were born. And that’s because it works! Exercise will keep your bones healthy and your muscles flexible and keep you from having to rely on others to help you move about. And getting older gives you a much better understanding of which exercise works best for you. The world record for an over-70 marathon is just under three hours. You can’t turn back the clock, but you can slow it down.
New guidelines published in 2018 recommend that adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes each week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming and cycling. If you’re over 65 (well over in my case) your exercise should include multicomponent activities that offer balance training, aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening, all of which can help you reduce your risk of falls. Other suggested activities include dancing, yoga, tai chi, gardening and sports. The new guidelines also say that exercise bouts of ANY duration are fine, i.e., anything is better than nothing.
What about our brains?
Aging never seems to take a straight line, but your outlook on life and the changes your brain undergoes can influence the path. As we age, our brains start to work better, believe it or not. Research has shown that older people have better judgment, make better rational decisions, and can eliminate negativity better than younger people. As the working speed of the brain slows down, it begins to utilize more of itself. Studies have shown, in fact, that the more mature brain actually has advantages over the younger brain. You may find that it takes you longer to master new equipment and technology, but once you have, you make fewer mistakes using it, according to studies conducted on air traffic controllers and airline pilots. Inductive reasoning, verbal abilities and spatial reasoning also improve as you age.
Mindset and attitude
It’s all in your mindset and attitude! I can hear some of you now. What’s this got to do with my mindset and attitude? Well, studies have shown that your attitude about aging can add years to your life. Research has found that people with a positive perception of aging outlive negative thinkers by an average of 7½ years. Positive thinkers achieve better health and cognitive capabilities, and they maintain independence longer than their negative counterparts. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me! Being able to adapt is a key trait of successful aging. Be flexible but don’t compromise your standards; that is where it pays to be inflexible!
Keep the spirit
The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live. You can still keep a “warrior spirit” in an aging body. Get up each morning and say to yourself: Today I’m as young as I will ever be. How do I want to spend the rest of my “youth?” Today, you’re no longer what you eat or do. You are what you believe you are! In the end, aging happens to us all. It’s time to get over the fear of it and move on with living. Every age opens new and different opportunities. Your quality of life depends on it. Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many! Get out there and embrace life!