In this week’s episode, I want to talk about aging.
I find it frustrating how our society strongly values youth. I’m still relatively young in life- I turned 36 a few days ago, but I wouldn’t go back to my 20s. I value the things that I’ve learned, the person I’ve become, the experiences I’ve had – and I certainly would not trade that to have younger-looking skin or even for a longer runway in front of me. Now, I can understand that some people have a lot of regrets of how they’ve lived their life or maybe it just isn’t what they had hoped for, so the younger days seem more attractive. I don’t want to invalidate that. Aging also means loss of loved ones over time, potential illness, and difficult changes in life that I haven’t experienced yet. So I don’t want to say aging is this glorious, amazing thing all the time.
Last year, a good friend of mine turned 60. She said she was so excited to be 60 because she always knew her best years would be her senior years. I loved hearing her perspective. Now let’s look at ways that our society talks about aging to turn it into this menacing thing. One, all advertising is about looking younger. Use this cream, get this surgery, feel like you’re 25 again! On TV (and yes, this does sometimes happen in real life too)- an older person pining for someone much younger than them. Showing “old” people as being decrepit, senile, helpless – how many times have you heard someone say “I don’t WANT to live to be 100.” This is the picture that has been painted of aging. People ashamed to tell others how old they really are… I’ve made it my intention to always say proudly my age.
So what else can aging look like? For starters, if you take care of yourself- aging will not look like it does on TV. I am always admiring older people who are fit, who like to be learning and trying new things, and who still strive to be better. My parents and also Matt’s parents have been a great example of this. My neighbors are also closer to my parent’s age and they are always going on bike trips, spending time with friends and family, and look great. Eating with a plant-slant as I’ve mentioned before and as mentioned in the Blue Zones will help prevent getting things like heart disease and certain types of cancer…and even diseases like dementia and alzheimers. If you want to learn about the habits of people who live to be a healthy 100 years old- the 100-year-old who is still out there exercising, has it all together, and is a healthy image of aging- read Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones where he teamed up with National Geographic to find the areas around the world where people live to thrive at age 100.
Another really interesting read I enjoyed was John Robbins’ book, “Healthy at 100.” This book actually came out before Blue Zones, and it was John’s idea that Dan made even bigger. In this book, it follows different people- the Abkhasias, Vilcabambas, Hunzas, and Okinawans where people actually like to make themselves older. In fact, some of the research was difficult because people would lie and say they were 130 years old! Kids always want to be older until a certain point, so when, as adults, do we start trying to make that number smaller and why? People in these places value the elderly and make sure they are not lonely in old age by either having elders live with them or near them. Loneliness, as discovered in John Robbins, researched can kill you faster than cigarettes. For the Abkkhasians, sickness is not considered normal or a natural event in very old age. In Abkhasia, it’s an insult when someone tells you you are looking young. In John’s book, he mentioned we talk about life span- but some old people are not living- they are more waiting to die. He uses the term healthspan instead and I liked that a lot.
I’ve had the opportunity to do some racing in Asia, most notably Nepal and Sri Lanka. An amazing thing I saw there were much older women- women in their 80s still working and hiking heavy loads up the side of mountains. Granted, they probably do not have the luxury to retire or maybe retirement doesn’t exist in some places- I don’t know… but I just observed that a lot of the old people there were using their bodies in ways that we don’t usually see older people using their bodies in N. America.
I am always working on expanding my view of aging. I still feel tempted to use filters on instagram to cover up new wrinkles that pop up. Our culture celebrates flawless beauty. I’m trying to be excited about getting older, to be optimistic that all of my days will be valuable, and to take care of my body now with eating a plant-based diet, sleep, exercise, reducing stress, mindfulness, and working on my relationships so that I can have a long healthspan.
This week, I challenge you to look at your own bias of aging, observe how people around you view aging, and maybe even be excited to announce how old you are at your next birthday!