Life expectancy skyrocketed in the 20th century, and with it so did the number of disabled people. So, while we’re living longer, we aren’t necessarily living happier or healthier. But I’m a believer that you can be both happy and healthy at any age. While we may experience more aches and pains as we get older, it doesn’t mean we have to fall into the mentality that “it’s all downhill from here.” Especially when you follow my six secrets for aging more gracefully. As you’ll see, “being old” is often more a state of mind than anything else.
Secret #1: Define “Old” and Put it in its Context
What exactly does old mean? My answer: old is not a number, it’s a feeling. I have a lot of patients in their 60s and 70s. Many are full of youth. That’s because they refuse to let themselves associate their age with feeling “old.”
No matter your age, no matter how you feel, my advice is to separate the feeling from the number. If that seems difficult, the rest of these tips will help you disassociate the two.
Secret #2: Diversify and Expand Your Circle of Friends
It’s easy to think that being around younger people will only make you feel old. Not true. In fact, it can make you feel younger, happier, and less lonely. As we age, so does our circle of friends. Here’s a fun tip to diversify and expand your circle of friends: Try to have at least one friend from every decade of your life—and maybe for a decade or two older as well. For example, if you were born in the 1960s, find new friends born in every decade after that…and maybe from a decade or two before you were born, too.
This will pay dividends in two ways. First, it forces you out of self-imposed age segregation. Second, it allows you to see the world from the perspective of people from different generations. I know I’m not the only one that feels behind the times when I see kids and teens master the latest tech gadgets in less than one hour. But when those very kids and teens show me how to use them, it turns my feeling of confusion into a confident feeling of understanding. And for those older than you? You’re helping them to feel a little younger too.
Secret #3: Reject Ageism
As some people age, they slow down physically and lose some of their intellectual edge. But there are many loud voices in this world that perpetuate this stereotype and apply it to all older adults. Even if you have lost a step, it’s just one step. There’s no reason that you should give in to these stereotypes about being slow and fuzzy-minded. When you accept that stereotype as true, you are in effect boxing yourself in and preventing yourself from pursuing things that can be fun and very meaningful. You can work a part-time job after retirement, travel, take part in community activities, and so much more.
There are two ways to fight ageism. First, reject it outright. That’s the easy part. The second is a little more difficult: Combat those stereotypes head on. Learn new technologies. Exercise to keep yourself from losing a step (or to regain a few!). Stay informed about your world to know that everyone has a positive role in it.
Secret #4 Embrace the Positive
Contrary to stereotypes, older adults are actually happier and less stressed that young adults and middle-aged adults. Why? Think about it. They are either retired or close to it. Their child raising days are long behind them. They have more time and freedom to spend their days as they would like. They aren’t grinding through each week commuting to and from work and squeezing chores and family activities into the remaining hours of each day.
True, older adults can experience declines in health and income, but focusing on the emotional aspects of life can have tremendously positive effect. So while you probably can’t lace up and run a marathon, you can probably identify many things you are still really good at, and many other new things that you could master with practice. That means if you play tennis, keep playing! And if you have an itch to start a new hobby, by all means do so!
Secret #5: Emotionally Prepare
Retirement is often the first mile post of your senior years. It’s a big life event that can cause you anxiety before, during and after. Decades of working builds a sense of confidence and usefulness to a company and group of peers. And even if you stopped enjoying your job in those final years, it at least kept you busy. When all of that suddenly stops, you can find yourself anxious, bored or lonely.
Emotionally preparing for your older years entails a variety of things. You should plan for activities, hobbies, and routines. You should try to make plans with friends and family on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. Understand that it’s up to you to fill your day—your life for that matter—with meaning. And it’s up to you to choose how. That’s a wonderful freedom to have…try not to let it be a burden.
Secret #6: Physically Prepare
You only get one body. Taking care of it is one of the best ways to feel younger as you grow older. Not only will you feel younger, you will look younger too. I’ve written a lot about the many ways to take care of your body—exercise, diet, sleeping habits, etc. But here’s a little recap:
Exercise promotes a healthy heart rate and blood pressure. It can decrease inflammation throughout your body, especially in areas where you have arthritis. Regular exercise gives you more energy during the day, and helps you sleep better at night.
What you eat has a direct effect on your health. Eating sugar causes glycation, which is when wrinkles form in your muscle fibers. Those internal wrinkles don’t stay inside for long. A high-sugar diet can eventually cause external wrinkles, and that’s only the beginning. Inflammation, chronic illness, diabetes, the list goes on. By reducing refined sugars and processed carbs while increasing fruits and vegetables, your body is getting more vitamins and minerals that improve the function of nearly every major organ and system.
Sleep is essential for your body to recover from the day. While you sleep, your muscles rebuild, your brain cleans out the detritus that is brought about by electrical activity, and your organs rest, clean, and reset. Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for staying healthy and feeling young.
One diet is especially known for its anti-aging benefits. The ketogenic diet drastically lowers daily carb intake and replaces it with fat. The standard ratio is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs. When carbs are cut down that much, your body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis. During ketosis, your body burns fat for energy at an astonishing clip. As a result, blood sugar and insulin levels plummet. Brain fog lifts, excess weight melts away and you’ll look and feel younger by the day.
It’s important to remember that aging is a natural part of the life cycle. It can be just as enjoyable as any other phrase of life. Those who age gracefully and enjoy life have a positive outlook and take care of their mind, body and soul.