If you are experiencing existential angst about getting older, you’re not alone. Bring up aging with your friends, and it is instantly obvious that this is nobody’s favorite subject. They’d rather not discuss it; in fact, they’d rather no do it.
But there’s no way around it. Humans are born, we grow to become fertile adults, and then our bodies age until they expire at an average age of seventy-two-plus globally and close to seventy-nine in the United States. Most people accept that getting old is an inevitable part of life. But why does this happen? Why don’t our tissues continue regenerating forever?
Science tells us that there are two reasons: one is that our cells fail to divide properly over time; the other is attacks from the environment or from our own bodies’ wear and tear that accumulate over time. Until science figures out how to prevent these two processes, we will continue to age. So, if aging is inescapable, can we really influence how we age or should we just admit that we are powerless? The answer to first part is YES; we can influence how we age. The answer to the second part is NO; we should not admit that we are powerless because we aren’t.
There is much we can do to age well, successfully, and with grace. If we read all the books on that subject, we would be busy for a long time. In fact, it’s a good idea to read a few and learn the basic building blocks of a long and vibrant life. Here are a few worth your time. Forgive me for suggesting my own book first.
- How to Age with Grace: Living Your Best Life in your 70s, 80s, and Beyond. Bobbi Linkemer
- Eightysomethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness. Katharine Esty, PhD.
- Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being. Andrew Weil, MD.
- How a Woman Ages—Growing Older: What to Expect and What You Can Do About It. Robin Marantz Henig.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. John Ratey MD and Eric Hagerman.
- The Blue Zones, Second Addition: Nine Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Dan Buettner
- Think Safe, Be Safe: The Only Guide to Inner Peace and Outer Security. Harold H. Bloomfield, Robert K. Cooper, PhD, John Gray.
Here’s a crash course in how to have a positive impact on how you age: Technically, you can’t turn back the years, but chronological age and biological age are not the same. Sixty may not really be the new forty, but sometimes, it feels that way. There are eighty-year-olds who are vibrant, interesting, and interested in everything. Conversely, there are forty-year-olds who don’t seem interested in anything, complain about being old, and convince you that they are.
First and most important is take a close look at your attitude, and if it is at all negative, do whatever it takes to change it. The only effect you’ll have on your aging process with a negative attitude is to do it faster and far less pleasantly. Face the facts, accept reality, and decide to live the rest of your life as happily and passionately as possible.
Second, however great your attitude may be, if you’ve neglected the one and only body you have, your influence is likely to diminish. Your body needs the basics: nourishment, movement, and rest. These are all things over which you have control. You can choose whole, healthy foods instead of fast food and junk, and you can cook instead of doing drive through or microwaving processed foods. You can exercise instead of endlessly watching TV or becoming addicted to social media or computer games. You can train yourself to get a full night’s sleep every night instead of succumbing to sleep deprivation and its detrimental effects. These are your choices. Making them keeps you young; ignoring them speeds up aging.
Third, you need to feel safe. That means everything from clearing the clutter in your house that can literally trip you up and send you sprawling to becoming aware of potential dangers anywhere they may occur and making sensible plans to prevent or deal with them. Consider all the places in your life that may be hazardous: your home, your car, online activity, your financial transactions, even the food you eat.
Here’s the good news: Due to better diets and improved medical care people are living longer and healthier lives. The world was home to nearly half a million centenarians (people ages 100 and older) in 2015, according to United Nations estimates. There are projected to be to 3.7 million centenarians across the globe in 2050.
Aging successfully means retaining independence and mobility, preventing chronic conditions, retaining cognitive functioning, engagement with life, and having solid and enduring friendships. The medicalization of aging is shifting the focus away from the medical model and placing more responsibility for successful outcomes on individuals. Our acute care model of aging, whereby people identify symptoms and then see a medical professional to treat it, is outdated. In other words, we are responsible for our aging outcomes. Waiting for the oil light to come is not car maintenance. Routine vehicle maintenance is essential for reliable transportation. Likewise, preventive care [diagnostics and vaccines], exercise, nutrition, hydration, stress reduction, and friendships are up to us, not the medical community. Take responsibility for how you age.
Meditation and movement are essential to wellness! I hope you enjoy viewing this presentation from PBS about aging well. This video “features practical tips, real-life success stories, and the latest from leading medical experts on aging, while giving older adults the insights and inspiration they need to live healthier, more satisfying lives.”