Bette Davis once said that getting old was not for sissies. She couldn’t have been more on the money.
Like most people, I never really understood or believed that I’d actually reach the same place as my mother was many years ago (not that I would want the alternative, which is not to be here at all). When she’d try to tell me about getting older, I dismissed her by saying, “Oh, you have plenty of time.” She’d counter with, “You’ll see.” Well, she was right. As my mother’s body began to betray her by becoming frail, her humor would continue to sustain her. She’d remind me that she had “the furniture disease.” When I asked her what that was, she quipped, “That’s when your chest falls into your drawers.”
Well, much of what she said is true: our minds and bodies change, and life becomes more of a challenge. The good news about aging in the 21st century is that many gains have been made in the area of health and quality of life. I love the fact that we have more options. What drives me crazy is the silly euphemisms that the culture continues to foster on the aging public. The whole concept of anti-aging is counterproductive. If you don’t age, you die! There are more products on the market today that are supposed to tighten, remove, erase, reduce, and reconstruct than ever before. In essence, our youth-crazed society wants you to look more like your grandchildren than like a grandmother. We cannot erase aging, but we can embrace it.
Creating a template that fosters a healthy mind, body and spirit will definitely enhance how we feel and look. That is the foundation that can support cosmetic possibilities. Filling wrinkles with Restylene or Botox and getting facelifts will not help a body devoid of healthy nutrients or a withered soul. However, obsessing about every morsel of food or becoming so invested in spending hours meditating and doing yoga poses is also not going to guarantee a long life. Red Fox, the comedian, said something I’ll always remember: “Health nuts are going to feel stupid some day, lying in the hospital dying of nothing.”
The bottom line is that none of us is going to get out of here alive! I realize that much of what I’m saying is like “preaching to the choir.” Most of us are aware that exercise and healthy eating habits are essential to well-being and the ability to age well. What many of us don’t realize is how important it is to manage our stress levels. The latest, greatest research in the field of genetics has discovered that stress hormones not only can change gene expression for the worse, but they can also affect every tissue and organ in the body. How we manage stress helps breed resiliency, which is one of the quintessential benchmarks for aging well. There are many ways to reduce stress, but one that I espouse seems to be one that is not well recognized. I recommend “fun” to all my clients as one of the greatest anecdotes to stress, and the key to the ability to live a long, juicy life. When we stop looking for fun and “become the fun we’re seeking,” our mind, body and spirit relax and step into a “flow” mode. Is this easier said than done? Probably, since our culture only values fun as an end point to when the work is done.
When we take ourselves less seriously and begin to realize that “we’re not here for a long time, but we are here for a good time” we tend to stop “catastrophizing” and “awfulizing.” There is plenty of research now that shows that humor, fun and a sense of playfulness actually can expand capillary function and help elicit endorphins. Yet few, if any, physicians ask their patients if they are having fun, laughing daily or creating goals for a life that is geared toward feeling joyful and passionate.
As I have aged, I have learned some very important lessons, one of which is that I must discover how to navigate my life so that I do not fall into old patterns of being a martyr, perfectionist or waiting for someone to rescue me. I realize that “no one is coming.” I’m in charge until I don’t know any better. This allows me to let go of old baggage, not be part of global whining groups or buy into guilt of “the gift that keeps on giving.” Join me in aging well by:
- making each day feel like a new beginning
- reinventing yourself on some level so that you don’t become your own “Groundhog Day”
- spend time in community with others
- become more involved in the pursuit of altruism
- find the bless in the mess
- laugh as often as possible
- keep a positive outlook: “if you think the worst and get the worst, you suffer twice; if you think the best and get the worst, you only suffer once.”