Do you believe your memory problems are just a sign of aging? Do you believe that your achy joints and stiff movements are just the price you pay for getting older? This subtle lie that age means physical and cognitive decline could kill you!
Age is a State of Mind
I remember coming across a book when I was young called “Growing Old is Not for Sissies”. I loved reading as a kid and the title made me curious, so I flipped through it. Even though I could tell it was meant as a joke of sorts, the picture it painted of aging was atrocious!
Who wants to grow old when all you have to look forward to is losing your memory, not being able to understand new technology and returning to diapers?
This cultural acceptance of aging as a normal reason to slow down and become increasingly unsteady, incapable, and incompetent is an excuse. It’s an excuse to stop trying, to stop fighting for better. It’s an excuse that allows us a way to throw in the towel long before our life is ready to be over.
On the flip side, the people I have met who have lived a long and mostly healthy life have one thing in common – spunk. They approach life with a “says who?” attitude and continue to surprise the people around them! They know that age is not an excuse, it’s a motivation to go live life!
Your Body can be in Great Health if You Take Care of It… No Matter What Your Age
No, at 70 you are not going to have the radiant skin of a 20 year old. You also won’t likely have their speed or endurance. But you can certainly take care of yourself to maximize your physical and mental health at every stage of life.
Of course at 70 you probably shouldn’t be participating in contact sports, but Tai Chi and Yoga and even strength training are fantastic ways to keep your body strong, limber and balanced!
Also, your calorie and nutrition needs will change as you age. This is especially true for women after going through menopause. But tuning into your body and still choosing to consume nutrient dense foods will keep your body (and your mind!) fueled so it can continue to work for you!
When you choose to stop taking care of your body, it will stop working – regardless of your age!
Mild Cognitive Impairment is Not Normal
It’s easy to blame your age for losing your keys, getting stumped for words in the middle of a sentence, or just forgetting to put the milk back in the fridge. (And to be clear, I’m not judging because we’ve all been there!)
To be clear, these behaviors may actually be no big deal if they are associated with a recent (and temporary) sleep problem, some added stressors, or something. If the “brain fog” goes away within a week or two, it’s no big deal and just part of life.
However, when you or a loved one is developing a pattern of behaviors like this, it’s not normal. It can actually be an indication of early stages of dementia. If you take it seriously and treat it appropriately, you can potentially reverse it. Currently the only valid intervention the research supports is exercise!
But so often we wrongly assume that this is just part of aging, and we suffer for believing that lie!
There are a few things we NEED in order to age gracefully.
Now that we somewhat understand the danger of believing this lie, let’s dive into what we actually need to age gracefully.
We Need Purpose
I believe we were created to give and serve. When we connect our lives to a bigger purpose, it’s much easier to believe in the need to preserve ourselves. We want to keep showing up and making a difference.
Often during adulthood, our purpose gets intricately tied to our 9-5 job. But often after retirement the search for purpose falls flat… which might be why your chances of a heart attack or stroke go up approximately 40% during the year after retirement!
This is a huge indicator that our need for purpose is essential to our health!
We Need Connection
Beyond feeling like what we DO matters, we also need to believe that who we ARE matters. We need people around us who love us. We need to feel community and connection.
There is more research coming out about how we are wired to be social creatures and the brain benefits of maintaining a healthy social network. Researchers are beginning to consider appropriate social interactions as a basic need as essential as food and water!
We Need Challenge
As soon as we believe we have “done it all” and there’s nothing new left to work towards, we stop growing and start dying. There is an essential need to believe that there is something new to conquer.
I met a woman who was 101 and spunky as could be. She told me all these wonderful things she had done for her recent birthdays – riding on an elephant, taking a road trip, etc. Her eyes lit up as she told me the stories. She had already chosen her next adventure for her birthday in a few months and her eyes sparkled as she told me her plans.
Planning to do something new, challenging, or just different enough to be exciting gives us a reason to get up and keep pushing forward. Challenge might look different at 90 than it does at 40, but it’s still necessary for us to age gracefully!
I hope this post has encouraged you to examine your own beliefs about aging and what is possible. I see patients all the time who have given up decades too early and are suffering for it. I don’t want that to be you!