“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” asked twentieth century baseball legend Satchel Paige.
I’m just beginning to “feel” that I’m aging though I’m well passed the time most women do. My niece, fifteen years my junior, is already complaining about aging. My nephew, when he turned 30, complained that he was getting to be “over the hill.” On the other hand, my father is 100 and says he guesses that he’s beginning to get old but is aiming for… not 101, but 200.
Do you have an ageist attitude toward yourself? Why let your age define your self-concept or your lifestyle? You can redefine your later years as a time of continuing growth instead of as a period of relentless decline. You can generate new passions—or regenerate old ones—and maintain a compelling roster of interests and activities. Here are seven ways I recommend to find and sustain your inner agelessness:
1- Find a purpose or passion
This gets you out of bed, out of the house, and out of dwelling on problems. If you aren’t fascinated by anything other than the degeneration of your knees, then look around some more at classes offered nearby, activities your friends enjoy, volunteer work requested locally, and that one thing you always wanted to do and for some reason always postponed—it’s not too late! Maybe you’ll never get your photos into a gallery show, but if you enjoy taking photos, go for it! Maybe you might not be the next “great American novelist” but you can still sit down and hammer out that novel that’s been in your imagination and see where it takes you. (Laura Ingalls Wilder found success as a novelist at age 64 as the author of Little House in the Big Woods.) Getting out of bed with energy and spirit only requires something more exciting than your morning tv talk shows to rouse your interest.
2- Be sociable
Engage. Have conversations with friends, relatives, with your neighbors and local kids… everyone! People can be amazing, surprising, worth knowing. Ask people questions about their job, family, travels, ancestry. Favor talking about your own good experiences – not your ills, not your age. Join or start a group book club or mahjong or walking club. How about a cooking club? Published research links positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Super agers, so-called for being highly functional in their elderly years, tend to have strong social relationships. Focus on your enjoyment of others instead of what others think of you. Columnist Ann Landers said, “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”
3- Schedule a routine for each day
Give yourself a schedule just like you had when you were employed or busy raising a family. It’s a good idea to meditate (see TM section below), eat and exercise at similar times each day. What about a morning constitutional? Not only does some repeated schedule help the day flow easier, but as you get into even later years it will ensure that important things get done without fail, such as medication management, regular meals, and daily hygiene. Schedule your chores as well as your entertainment. Give yourself permission for a daily afternoon treat, be it a soap opera or an ice cream cone—who is to say “no” to that? And though you’re not getting paid to work, apply your mind to something you enjoy, perhaps puzzles, solitaire, writing exercises, or reading.
4- keep active
Studies have shown that keeping focused is associated with greater cognitive ability. Staying active and focused is highly underrated and doesn’t have to be stressful at all—it is invigorating more often than not.
Another boost to overall mental as well as physical health comes from physical exercise. It helps your strength, circulation, balance, overall health and even clarity of mind. Exercise can help thinking and memory. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation and to stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health, abundance and survival of brain cells as well as the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. A study at the University of British Columbia showed that regular aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of the hippocampus, the section of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Indirectly, exercise can improve mood and sleep, and reduce stress and anxiety.
Join a class, or exercise along with a televised class or one on DVD; perhaps you can afford a personal trainer—or chip in with your friends for one. Walk briskly, swim. In a retirement facility, classes are always provided. It’s often important to have some guidance as to which machines and exercises are best for your body—do you have atherosclerosis or arthritis? Circulation or heart concerns? Some workouts and machines will be more suitable for you than others. Find your niche in the exercise world and go for it.
5- Read and write
Based on research findings published in Neurology, an article in Smithsonian magazine said that “remaining a bookworm into old age reduced the rate of memory decline by 32 percent compared to engaging in average mental activity. Those who didn’t read or write often later in life did even worse: their memory decline was 48 percent faster than people who spent an average amount of time on these activities. Reading gives our brains a workout because comprehending text requires more mental energy than, for example, processing an image on a television screen. Reading exercises our working memory, which actively processes and stores new information as it comes. Eventually, that information gets transferred into long-term memory, where our understanding of any given material deepens. Writing helps us consolidate new information for the times we may need to recall it, which boosts our memory skills.” The research shows that the earlier you start these activities and the more regularly you engage in them, the better the results.
6- Attend cultural events
Do you enjoy attending theater, concerts, sporting events, or parades? If you have the ability to get out to any kind of cultural event, put it in your schedule, invite a friend or go solo, and enjoy it. Being part of the community and sharing excitement and appreciation with other people of similar tastes can make your spirit soar.
7- Learn and practice the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique
Jennifer Lopez is a singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, producer and mother—how much more active can a woman get! At 48 years of age, she claimed to People Magazine that in order to have a well-rounded regimen supporting her mind, body and spirit, the Transcendental Meditation technique was necessary.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that women aged 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression of any age or gender in the U.S., partly because this is the period in most women’s lives that involves major changes: children leave home, partnerships might dissolve, job opportunities dwindle; health issues can start to crop up, and relatives and especially parents are starting to deal with more serious health issues. Fortunately, practice of the TM technique saves the day: a study led by researchers at University of California Los Angeles shows that depressive symptoms decreased by almost 50% over a 12-month period among people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, compared to controls.
In reference to women during this time of life, Cecilia Dintino, PsyD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, says “The impermanence of life breaks through to our consciousness and it seems to get harder and less motivating to simply carry on… a new consciousness has to emerge.”
Fortunately, practice of the TM technique allows that “new consciousness” to emerge. In addition, the TM technique slows down the symptoms of aging. It increases cardiovascular efficiency, vitality, visual acuity, learning ability, memory, and perception of well-being while reducing hypertension, insomnia, reaction time, behavioral rigidity, depression, and cholesterol.
He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden. – Plato
Personality researchers Costa and McCrae observed that the most discontented younger adults were the ones most likely to experience the so-called midlife crisis” in their 40s. So, the earlier in your life that you learn the TM technique, the better. Transcendental Meditation is a direct, simple, and effortless way to enhance your enjoyment of life and peace of mind.
Janet Hoffman is the national director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.