Aging is a natural process in life. Every single day you are older than you were the day before. Stereotypes about aging would have you believe that as you get older your health suffers, you become a burden to your families, your sleep patterns change, your mind is less sharp and flexible, and you become grumpier.
According to Mark Twain, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Is this true or should you be focused on avoiding mental and physical decline? Here are six common myths about aging, and how to change your perspective when it comes to getting older.
Dinner Is Now at 4:30 p.m.
I've often wondered why there is an early bird dinner that begins at 4:30 and subsequently why it seems to be filled with retirees. Do older people want to eat earlier then younger people? And if they do, is it because of a physical need or just because they have run out of other things to do during their day?
The answer might be found in a study by Stephen Brown done at the Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zürich. Dr. Brown and his team studied how hormones that circulate in the blood affect the sleep and eating patterns of older and younger populations. The researchers knew that the body's circadian clock is determined largely by the expression of the circadian genes (genes that dictate the patterns of sleeping and waking). The study showed that older people tend to have an earlier peak in this gene expression over a 24-hour period.
The question remains—do older people eat earlier thus changing their gene pattern or does the gene pattern change with age? I like to think Deepak Chopra was correct when he said, “The ‘normal’ experience of the body and its aging is a conditioned response—a habit of thinking and behavior. By changing your habits of thinking and behavior, you can change the experience of your body and its aging.”
Looking Old Is Less Attractive and Comes with Physical Decline
I think you can agree that this myth has been debunked. There are examples all around you of people choosing to defy aging. Demi Moore seems to look younger with each marriage, and shows like Ultimate Warrior show athletes in their 60s and 70s still beating the 20, 30, and 40 year olds.
Lifestyle, personal style, and state of mind are some of the factors contributing to the how attractive others see you. It's this simple: people who perceive themselves to be old and frail are more likely to give up activities that could keep them young. Exercising, eating a heathy diet, and having a full life where you are socially involved are all things that contribute to your physical and emotional state. If you act from a place of fear of aging, fear of injury, or fear of illness, your active participation in life becomes smaller.
In science, there is biological age and cognitive age. Biological age is the age you are while cognitive age is the age that you feel. In a 2009 study titled Marketing to Seniors: Age Really is a State of Mind, it was found that seniors who are psychologically younger have more positive attitudes and age with better health, higher levels of life satisfaction, and higher level of activity. Surround yourself with people who have a younger cognitive age—you will find it contagious!
Retirement Means Uncertainty
Many people love the stability of routine, and retirement can be a great source of anxiety since with retirement comes change, and change is often associated with uncertainty. What will you do? Will you have enough money? Will you stay healthy?
One way to take charge of this emotional state is to be really clear in your thinking and in your planning. Begin with your finances and have a clear plan. Know how much money you will have, and what you will spend to cover regular living costs. Know what insurance coverages you will require. Know how much you want to travel, and what the costs will be. Have a clear understanding of your financial situation.
Of course retirement just isn't about money, you also want to know what you're going to be doing. Imagine a typical week and what it will look like. What time will you wake up? Where will you go? How will you fill your days? Who will you be with? Plan your social outings and create a map or schedule that you can regularly revisit.
Death Is the Last Chapter
Or is it? The fact is, you don’t know but you do get to choose what you believe. Instead of ruminating on what might be true, decide to either have faith in what you believe or embrace the uncertainty of the unknown.
According to research scientist Marilyn Schlitz, “We need death in order to maintain that great circle of life.” North American culture in particular seems; to have a lot of emotional angst triggered by their fear of death. Schlitz suggests that learning to accept the process of dying as an integral part of life can bring peace of mind.
You Will Become a Burden to Your Family as You Age
When you think of becoming a burden to your family, it's largely because you probably fear needing their help. Making sure that you are as healthy as possible and connected to people outside of your relatives are ways to avoid becoming a burden.
In fact, I'd like to imagine that I will become an elder rather than elderly. I'm not sure when our society stopped valuing the wisdom of elders but by maintaining a lifelong love of learning or diverse curiosity, you can position yourself to be looked up to rather than looked down upon.
Also remember to keep play in your life. You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing. Your family will enjoy time with you even more if it feels fun and easy.
In his book Head Strong, biohacking expert Dave Asprey explains how sleeping better, jumping on a trampoline, and doing daily breathing exercises are three simple steps that can help maximize your brain performance. If you stay at your peak, you will hardly be a burden! You can reframe your thoughts to paint you as a helper instead.
Older People Are Lonely
Loneliness is a state of mind. Remember that alone and lonely are not the same thing. According to Dr. Rudi Tanzi, “As we get older, we tend to get lazy and apathetic about learning. It takes smaller stresses to upset us, and these stresses linger for a longer time.” When you are stressed and perseverating on it, you aren’t good company. Staying curious, adapting to new technologies, and keeping active all help you to meet new people and keep you socially connected.
Decide how much interaction you need to feel connected and then choose activities you love. Try joining a hiking group, a weekly meditation sangha, or a painting class. As you exercise your “making friends” muscle, it will become stronger. If you want a friend, be a friend.
As you embrace a new perspective on aging, read about the new research on how bodies and minds age. Start by adding these great books to your reading list:
- Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being by Rudi Tanzi and Deepak Chopra
- Healthy Aging by Andrew Weil M.D.
- Head Strong by Dave Asprey
- Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being by Rudi Tanzi and Deepak Chopra
- Goddesses Never Age by Christiane Northrup M.D.
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