Thursday, February 5, 2015

Busting up some aging myths

The perils of aging are largely myths.

"What makes people believe they don't have any power or control over what happens to them?" Forrest asked as we were chatting about older friends and family who are dealing with health challenges. We realized we were somewhat confounded by how little some of us seem to know and understand about our own health.

It struck me that we grow up conditioned to think that aging is negative, a bad thing. We learn:

  • We'll get sick. 
  • Our bones get weak. 
  • Bodies give out. 
  • Things break. 
  • We won't be as vibrant. 
  • Sex lives wane. 
  • Memories fade. 

And so many more.
We accept them as fact.
We don't question.

Stuff happens, some of it preventable, some not, but either way, it doesn't mean we're without power to have an impact. So here are a few thoughts, as I consider my own journey.

We are not our genetics.

That list above? Not necessarily true... We are not our genetics, although we can be if we believe we are and act accordingly.

We can influence what happens to us, and what we believe and how we act can make all the difference. It's not to say they won't happen; as we age, the odds of developing ailments increases. We can't control all of our environmental influences.

Yet there is much within our control. Beliefs matter.

We are what we eat. 

The old adage, "we are what we eat," is actually pretty true. If we put junk in our bodies, we feel ... well, like junk.

What we consume makes a difference, no matter what our age, but we might feel the impacts more as we get older, as we whittle away our defenses. So many illnesses or conditions are considered preventable and are now linked to diet - Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, to name just a few... Food also has a huge impact on brain function, how we feel emotionally and how much energy and strength we have. A few insights:

  • Sugar - any type of sugar - contributes largely to inflammation, which is the root cause of many disorders and diseases. 
  • Processed food is full of sugar and various chemicals (thousands of untested additives are on the FDA approved list for use in food!), and generally, the western diet is highly processed. 
  • Sugar substitutes are even worse. Sodas, any type, are not helpful. Try sparkling water with a splash of juice, some bitters, or herbs for a refreshing alternative and to stay sufficiently hydrated.
  • As so many food experts now advocate, and to paraphrase Michael Pollan, as I often do, eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. 
  • Simple carbs like white flour or white rice are stripped of fiber and nutrients and quickly turn to sugar once ingested. A better option is whole grain; even better, the ancient grains. Grains in any form should be a small part of our diets; make sure your breads or cereals have just a few ingredients and you know what they are. 
  • Potatoes and other starchy foods get a bad wrap, but they're actually nutrient dense. Add a little butter or sour cream and you're golden. Just eat sparingly. 
  • Fat is good. Well, good fats are good. Fat is satisfying and helps our bodies use many of our vitamins.
  • Lastly, conventional agriculture is pesticide- and antibiotic-heavy. If you can, know your producers, buy from a farmers market, shop the organic section or make smart purchases using the Clean 15 / Dirty Dozen lists.  

Use it or lose it...

While the research and thinking around exercise continues to change (how much, how often, how intense), the importance of moving our bodies has not. To thrive, we need to be active.

Sitting is one of the worst things we can do, and from my own experience, know it causes all kinds of less-than-fun discomforts. There's evidence now it can even shorten our lives, and certainly it contributes to countless ailments.

Sitting too much keeps me from running - temporarily (sing it: the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone... or a version there-of, in my case, sitting caused limited range of motion in my hips, underachieving glutes, overactive calves and impossibly tight Achilles tendons in both feet).

It's never too late to start moving. But if you haven't moved your body for a while, it's best to start slow. Yoga or stretching, strength and balance exercises, coupled with standing desks if you have a desk job are all essential to bone, muscle, mental and even emotional health.

     And then there's style...

I have no interest in getting old. That said, as we all are, I am aging. There's a big difference between old and aging. Unless I want to pay a small fortune, I can't do much about my sagging jaw line, but I don't have to look old, either. Good style never goes out of date.

Cosmetics, used strategically, dressing appropriately for your lifestyle (but throw away those "how to dress at any age" guides, especially if they tell you to change your style based on your age), and an updated hair style just feel good. I intend to stay relevant even when I'm an advanced age, and personal style shows you 'get it.'

...And lastly, life-long learning

Don't ever lose your curiosity. Challenge yourself. Even as a teenager, I recognized the value of "being comfortable being uncomfortable" with a wall poster reminding me at every look.



Ask questions. 


These keep us vibrant, relevant and engaged. Be deliberate and intentional. We can learn and grow from everything and we're never too old to learn something new. Brain science is growing exponentially and none of it suggests that we have to lose capacity as we age.

As 'anonymous' once stated (I wish I knew who really said this), "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well-preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, and loudly proclaiming, 'wow, what a ride.'"

(If you like inspiring quotes, here's a pretty good selection.)

While this is hardly a comprehensive list (I didn't even mention play, laughter, or spending time in nature; oh, and don't smoke...) to help you age gracefully - or disgracefully, if you prefer, I think it busts a few of those myths I grew up hearing. Hope they do that for you, too.