STAY YOUNG AND LIVE LONGER
September 3, 2012 12 Comments
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
I am regularly surprised that chronological age can play such an important factor in many people’s lives, even beyond the obsession with retirement that seems to be one of the core elements of life (see “How old are you really” posted January 23, 2012). It’s as though when we hit some magical point in our advancing years, determined mainly by actuaries calculating insurance risk, we are meant to fade quietly into the background, getting out of the way of the next generation.
The objective of life should not be to just make it through to the inevitable ending, it should be to make the best of everything that we have along the way, even beyond the time when we get the telegram from the Queen.
To do this, I believe that the first thing to do is to stop worrying about the non-essential numbers such as age, weight, height, blood-pressure and BMI. I am not saying that we should become sedentary and not care about what we eat, how much we exercise and how healthy we are, but I am saying that we should stop fixating on the numbers. I am amazed by how many of my Facebook friends have started using apps like “myfitnesspal” to tell the world what is their daily calorie burn and their weight change by the smallest fraction of a gram. Surely exercise and sport are about fun, mixing with other people like scantily dressed young women at the gym, and feeling good about oneself, rather than it just being about the numbers. If you love the activity the numbers will look after themselves, and in the words of the Jedi Nike one should “Just Do It”.
Beyond that, here is my list of what all of us who are already sexagenarians and beyond should do to stay young for as long as we can.
1. Keep away from people who are negative
There are enough optimists in most circles of friends without any of us having to spend time with those who see life, love, health and family as all being things to complain and bitch about. Negative people are not only a pain to be with but also tend to drag you down with them. A recent study of a group of people who had lived beyond 100 years found that they were predominantly optimistic about life irrespective of race, colour, nationality or financial situation.
2. Do something out of character regularly enough to be considered somewhat eccentric
Small children do some pretty strange things that can defy the rational because they have not started to build societal boundaries on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. As we get older this conditioning controls what we wear (see the poem “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple” by Jenny Joseph), what we say and what we do. When we went white water rafting through the Grand Canyon for 8 days last year most of our friends thought that we were crazy because it was meant for younger people. We loved it and we were not the oldest there by a factor of nearly 10 years.
3. Do something beneficial for others outside your own family
The same 100+ study found that the vast majority of centenarians did some form of charitable work, whether it was volunteer work in a hospital or being a lollipop-lady at a local school. As we age we need to ensure that we do not become totally self-focussed. Helping other people to improve their lives not only gives people a feeling of some worth but also takes the mind away from worrying just about one’s own state of being. If charities don’t excite you at least get a pet so that you don’t just focus on yourself all the time.
4. Accept that tragedy will strike and learn how to handle it
You cannot afford to let any tragedies, and subsequent mourning of the loss, take over your life. You have to learn to endure, grieve and move on. No one lives forever and “the only person who stays with us our entire life is ourselves”. It may sound callous, but it is critical to do so to maintain your own life force.
5. Never stop learning
Learning is a journey not a destination, and we should never stop learning new things, as this is one of the critical elements in trying to fend off Alzheimer’s. The chosen topic is irrelevant as long as it challenges you to think. We are never too old to develop a new skill, learn a new language, travel to a new location or try a new dance step.
6. Guard your health
If you have good health, work hard to maintain it. Eat wisely but well, exercise regularly and drink less but of better quality. If your health is changeable, work to improve it by decreasing those things that affect it negatively and increase the things that improve it. If your health is not what it should be, and you can’t improve it, then get help from those who are qualified to do so and whom you trust.
7. Laugh whenever you get the chance
Life is full of the absurd, and you should laugh loudly and often. Not just small embarrassed titters but loud, belly shaking guffaws. If life was meant to be serious the deities would not have made humans in so many different and humorous guises. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford has shown that it is not just the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humour, but that the physical act of laughing, the simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect. So laugh often and feel better about things.
8. Mix with younger people
Younger people talk about life, love and sex while older people talk about obituaries, divorces and joint pains. Whether it is work related where one can take a mentoring and coaching role, teaching French littlies to speak English as our housekeeper does in the afternoons or mixing socially with a younger crowd as we have started to do since befriending some of the Bordeaux (UBB) Rugby squad doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t spend all your time with your own age group. I cannot think of anything more horrific than having to live in one of the villages for the 60+ now springing up in the UK.
As said by Sir Laurence Olivier “Take a simple view of life: keep your eyes open and get on with it.”