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Age: It’s Just a Number

December 2, 2017

“Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value. You can be younger at 60 than you were at 30 because you’ve changed your attitude and your lifestyle. To be ageless is to defy the rules of what it supposedly means to be this age or that age. It is, quite simply, to never ‘grow old’ – to never feel as if the best days are behind you and it’s all downhill from here.”

Christiane Northrup, M.D. (from ‘Goddesses Never Age’).

There’s a great line in the original Crocodile Dundee movie when Sue asks Mick when he was born and he says, “In the summer”. He has no idea how many years he has lived (i.e., how ‘old’ he is), and so his age doesn’t limit him. We should all think that way. Age, after all, is just a number.

HowOld.gifApparently it was Satchel Paige who originally posed the question, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”.  It’s something I’ve pondered many times. I’d love to say my instantaneous response would be “21” or “25” (both good years) but that’s probably stretching things a bit. I know (without having to think about it) that during my 30s I was busy raising two boisterous boys while teaching part time and volunteering and looking after a household (basically burning the candle at both ends AND in the middle), so I don’t immediately think of my ‘now’ age as anywhere within that decade. But the 40s? Yes! (the second half, anyway). Those were mostly positive, productive, happy, busy years. Filled with challenges, yes, and change (lots of change!) but I felt alive and valued and, by the time I was on the cusp of 50, reborn as the person I was always meant to be.  So when I think about my ‘psychological age’, I think “47”, which was a very good year! (NOTE: unfortunately, there were some years that followed – filled with long hours of teaching, corporate politics, the stress of living in a busy city, the challenges of teenagers, aging parents, vindictive family members, and the poor lifestyle choices that resulted – when my ‘psychological age’ not only matched my ‘chronological age’, but maybe even surpassed it; fortunately, I’ve been able to reverse that in the past few years.)

AntiAgingI find it rather distressing when I see so many ads (on TV and in magazines, etc.) promoting ‘anti aging’ products (which, let’s face it, can’t possibly deliver on that promise; no face cream or serum or hair dye can ‘anti age’ you – they can only ‘minimize’ or ‘disguise’ the physical signs of aging like wrinkles or grey hair). Still, between ‘conventional wisdom’ and marketing messages, we’ve been brainwashed into believing that as we get older (past 25, or 30, or 40, or 50 …) our skin will sag, our muscles will become lax, we’ll gain weight, chronic diseases (heart issues, diabetes, cancer) will set in, we’ll be likely to suffer from brain-related illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s, we’ll become immobile (from knee or hip or back problems), etc. etc. We’ve been convinced that it’s pretty much inevitable – that there’s nothing we can do about it and we may as well just give up and accept it. Well, I’m here to tell you: that’s WRONG!!

OrbitLet’s face it – we’re getting ‘older’ from the moment we’re born. Time passes – the earth rotates around the sun every 365¼ days and, chronologically, we’ve ‘aged’ one more year. Most people expect to live a maximum of 75 or 80 years; many believe that anyone who makes it to 90 or 100 has really good genes (or exceptionally good luck). Recent research, however, suggests that only 25% of longevity is determined by genetics; the other 75% is due to lifestyle and environmental factors. That means that if you improve those (eat healthier, exercise regularly, practice positive thinking and engage in spiritual practices like meditation or yoga), you actually CAN ‘anti-age’ (‘turn back the hands of time’) by as much as eight years!

If you follow any health-related news, you’ve no doubt seen articles about advances in brain ‘plasticity’, the benefits of exercise and ‘eating right’, the advances being made in extending life spans. Here are just some of the things researchers have ‘discovered’ in the last decade or so (adapted from ‘Aging Backwards’ by Miranda Esmonde-White):

  • Our brains don’t stop growing or begin to ‘die’ when we are in our mid-twenties; they are actually quite plastic. So long as we keep mentally (and physically) active, our brains keep growing and new brain cells are added well into our ‘twilight years’.
  • Our metabolism only ‘takes a hit’ after 40 if we do absolutely nothing to prevent it slowing down. People who consistently exercise for 30 minutes a day at least 3 days a week can completely avoid age related metabolic slowdown (and actually retain the same metabolism as people in their 20s).
  • Age isn’t the main culprit when it comes to wrinkles and ‘sagging skin’. You can keep your skin looking youthful by regularly applying moisturizer and sunscreen (and wearing clothing that protects against the sun’s harmful rays), eating a fruit and veggie rich diet (the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables fight the free radicals that age skin), drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising to defeat gravity’s impact on elasticity and firmness.
  • Muscles don’t ‘fade away’ just because we’re getting older. They get weak because we stop using them (to their full capacity). “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Regular exercise and ‘strength training’ can not only prevent muscle loss, but you can regain what’s been lost through inactivity by exercising regularly.
  • Similarly, your joints are not ‘destined to fail’. Most knee, hip, shoulder and back problems aren’t caused by age – they are caused by mismanagement (improper footwear, poor posture, being overweight). If we put them through proper range of motion training, learn to walk / run properly, don’t overstress them, and support them with strong, flexible muscles (see above), they’ll last forever.
  • Diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. are also not inevitable. Many of these diseases are caused by poor lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, being overweight / obese, eating a high-glycemic diet, not exercising, having a negative attitude towards life). You can stay healthy well into your ‘third act’ if you work at it.

Weak_StrongWhat all the recent research is proving is that most of the symptoms we associate with ‘aging’ aren’t the result of years of ‘wear and tear’ on our bodies, but of the negative effects of misuse and abuse – choices we’ve made (many based on the lifestyles we’ve adopted in the last hundred or so years) that our bodies weren’t designed for and can’t adapt to. The good news is that it is all quite preventable and/or reversible! You can ‘age backwards’ if you’re willing to do the work and have the desire to live longer (and healthier).

My husband and I are living proof of this. Before he retired in 2016 and we moved to the country, we were over-stressed, overweight, and weak. We’d experienced repeated physical ailments like back problems, knee problems, shoulder problems, hip problems, chronic upper respiratory ailments, migraines, and colds that wouldn’t go away. We slept poorly, ate poorly and felt crappy most of the time. But now, after sixteen months of caring for four acres of land (nearly three acres of which is forest; another 10,000 square feet is lawn and garden), stretching our muscles regularly and walking 2.5 km (1.5 miles) daily, practicing mindfulness and gratitude constantly, and undertaking activities that both challenge and engage/interest us, we’re fitter, healthier, thinner and happier than we’ve been in nearly 15 years. We don’t think in terms of how ‘old’ we are – we’re ageless. It takes effort, yes, but the end result has been worth every moment, because we’re both planning on spending a good many more years here on … the other side of 55.

Sunset_Nov20

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10 Comments
  1. December 5, 2017 6:24 am

    What a great post, Margo! I couldn’t agree with you more. My Dad used to say, “You’re only as old as you feel” and there’s so much truth to that. Positive attitude and mindful healthy living goes a long way — by the way, my father lived to be 90 even though he had a bout with cancer and also a couple of stents in his heart. My father-in-law became depressed as he aged, but he changed his way of thinking, became more active, and lived a good healthy life until the age of 93. Living a less stressful and active life out here in the country does us both good, doesn’t it?

    • December 5, 2017 10:23 am

      I definitely think the fresh air and open spaces (not to mention all the work that needs to be done) have something to do with our healthier lifestyle and the sense of agelessness. I certainly feel years younger since moving out here.

  2. December 3, 2017 4:39 am

    Wonderful post with loads of good information. BTW, as an old guy who remembers Satchel Paige, I thought you might enjoy this quote from him about age. A reporter asked him why he always told reporters a different year when they asked when he was born. He replied, “I like to give each of the boys a scoop.” Another aspect of ‘age is just a number,’ is how you old feel in relation to those around you. When I was 55 I was married to a 35 year old woman. I would sit across from her at dinner and think that she was young, so I was old. We are long split, but, now more than 20 years later, I feel and am younger than I was then. It was my own fault that I became an old man married to a younger woman. To a large extent I agree with you that age is just a number.

    • December 3, 2017 8:16 am

      My husband is 3 years younger than I am, but always claims he’s older because, “It’s not the years, its the mileage.” I feel younger now than I did 10 years ago and hope to feel younger again in 10 years time. Thanks for commenting and reblogging.

      • December 3, 2017 9:16 am

        Thanks for sharing that, Margo. Need to remember your husband’s line.

      • December 3, 2017 9:23 am

        He’s a ‘car guy’, so the analogy ‘fits’ his personality.

      • December 3, 2017 9:55 am

        LOL I am a bike guy, so it works for me, too.

      • December 4, 2017 8:05 am

        We have a bike, too! Its a great way to celebrate being ‘ageless’, isn’t it?

  3. December 2, 2017 6:17 pm

    I haven’t really thought about what age I would say I might be if I didn’t know which ‘spring’ I was born in! I’m conflicted as to how old I want to live to be, though. If I have to give up chocolate, I think I would just as soon die a bit younger…

    • December 2, 2017 6:52 pm

      As long as I remain healthy and fit (mentally and physically), I plan to keep on keeping on …

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