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 they can’t be stopped.
“Aging well is the supreme expression of wisdom.” —Michael Gelb
Alongside the anti-aging phenomena is a field of science known as the sociology of age. One thing to note is that there is a difference between the phrases “growing old” and “growing older.” Growing old refers to a particular age group, and “growing older” is a description of everyone and can be applied differently to different generations.
Consider that in 1900 a 20-year-old man could scarcely look ahead to retirement at all. Today, such a person can expect to spend a 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. There are some things we can do to age with dignity, grace and fulfillment, though. These can be the best years of our lives if we approach them correctly.
Here are five 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, and so the matrix of relationships amongst kin and step-kin also accompanies longer living. Add to this that longevity creates more complexity in our options, too. What should we be doing for the next two or three decades? Retiring at 65 and dying at 68 is not the majority experience anymore. Life is complex; it’s a byproduct 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 used 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. The brain has 200 billion neurons and 125 trillion synapses in the cerebral cortex alone, and it can actually significantly improve with age. 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.
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 where the group was divided into those with a positive attitude toward 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 four years.
Exercise, weight loss and non-smoking added three years, but…
A positive attitude toward 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 grow, change, adapt and improve as we age. Some cells die when we get older, but only a fraction of our 100 billion cells are actually put to use. Brain connections can be strengthened and new brain cells can be generated and made available to be put into action. Cerebral growth happens when we challenge our learning and stretch our thinking.
4. Broaden your interests.
Routines can become ruts. When we do the same things we’ve always done, we stop learning and start living on autopilot, becoming limited as we age. But barring dementia, this can be turned around.
A study was done on 100-year-olds that showed learning new things significantly improved their scores on memory tests, as new pathways in their brain were created. Our brains love stimulation. The result is a healthier, sharper mind.
5. Recognize and express gratitude.
A Harvard study showed that those who age successfully worry less about cholesterol and more about gratitude (and forgiveness). They have a clear sense of the meaning of gratitude, and they are great at spotting it and generous in expressing it. The impact that gratitude has on the quality of life is overwhelming. And yes, embracing aging with gratitude increases 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?