One of the most popular marketing niches today is anti-aging. Yet no matter how much hype it gets the process of aging is inevitable. The good news is that the effects and severity of the progression can be slowed down, but not stopped.
“Aging well is the supreme expression of wisdom.” —Michael Gelb
Along side the anti-aging phenomena is a field of science known as the Sociology of Age. And one thing to note is that there is a difference between the phrases “growing old”, and “growing older.” One refers to a particular age group and the latter is a description of everyone. Yet “growing older” can be applied differently to different generations.
Consider that in 1900 a 20 year old man could scarcely look ahead to retirement at all. Yet today such a person can expect to spend one quarter of his adult life in a retirement mode. In 1900 it was not uncommon for both parents to have died before the children reached adulthood. Today it’s not uncommon for parents to anticipate surviving together with their children for 40 or 50 years – maybe more. We live a large share of our lives with our children as “age-status” equals.
So even though we can slow down the aging process using cosmetics, exercise, and nutrition, it’s good to keep in mind that anti-aging is not possible. Yet there are some things we can do to age with dignity, grace, and fulfillment. These can be the best years in our lives if we approach them correctly.
Here are 5 attitudes for aging gracefully.
1. Accept the complexity that comes with longevity. We are living longer which creates more complexity in our relationships. This is exacerbated with the increase in divorce and remarriage. The matrix of relationships amongst kin and step-kin accompanies longer living. Add to this that longevity also creates more complexity in our options. What should we be doing for the next 2 or 3 decades? Retiring at 65 and dying at 68 is not the majority experience anymore. Living longer creates complexity because life is complex. It’s a by-product of an increased span of living. Accept it as a marvelous challenge.
2. Develop a positive attitude toward growing older. Our bodies develop more aches and pains, less flexibility, pinched nerves, joint issues, and skin that’s not quite as tight as it use to be. But our brain doesn’t. There are no aches, grinding parts, or pulled tendons in our brain. There is no outright deterioration as we age – at least there doesn’t have to be. This 3 pound muscle in our heads can significantly improve with age. It has 200 billion neurons and 125 trillion synapses in the cerebral cortex alone. According to Michael Gelb, the old paradigm was called “neuro static.” In other words the brain didn’t develop too far beyond childhood and began to deteriorate after 30. Today we know that the brain forms new connections and creates new cells. It’s called neurogenesis. This happens in older folks. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that the brain simply gets older. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not a matter of brain capacity as much as self-imposed limiting habits that keep us stuck.
A study was done on 660 people. The group was divided into those with a positive attitude towards aging, and those with a negative attitude. It was conducted over a 22 year period. The positive group outlived the negative group by an average of 7 ½ years. Interestingly,
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol increased life spans by 4 years
- Exercise, weight loss, and non-smoking added 3 years, but
- A positive attitude towards aging had an even greater impact on survival
3. Exercise your mind. Our brains are either growing or shrinking. As with our muscles, exercise keeps the brain healthy and growing. Scientists call it neuroplasticity. Our brains can change and reorganize by forming new neural connections, not just when we are young, but throughout our entire life. In fact, our minds are designed to improve as we age. We are now able to watch the brain grow, adapt, change, and improve. Brain connections can be strengthened and new brain cells can be generated. Some cells die when we get older. But only a fraction of our 100 billion cells are put to use. These cells are also available to be put into action. This is done as we challenge our learning and stretch our thinking.
Mind stressors produce cerebral growth.
4. Broaden your interests. We have a tendency to do the same things we’ve always done which results in no new learning. Routines can become ruts. We are prone to become limited as we age. We go on autopilot. But barring dementia, this can be turned around.
A study was done on 100 year olds. Learning new things significantly improved their scores on memory tests. New pathways in their brain were created. The result is a healthier, sharper brain. Our brains love stimulation.
5. Recognize and express gratitude. A Harvard study showed that those who age successfully are those who worry less about cholesterol and more about gratitude (and forgiveness). They had a clear sense of its meaning. They were great at spotting it and generous in expressing it. The impact that gratitude has on the quality of life is overwhelming. And yes, they embraced aging with gratitude which increased longevity.
The topic of anti-aging is intriguing, but that should not be our focus. Our focus should be about aging wisely, intelligently, and gracefully.
What do you think?