I turned 60 last week, which is something of a milestone. If 50 is sort of the official entrance to AARP-Land, then I suppose 60 is the cheesy hotel on the outskirts of Social Security World. I’m not sure that I buy the whole milestone argument, but I know one thing for sure: 60 sure doesn’t seem as big a number as it did, say, 15 or 20 years ago. In fact, it’s a kind of a weird thing how, as you age, your sense of yourself doesn’t really keep up with the number. Maybe it’s just me, but even as my physical form has changed (how did the skin on the back of my hands become so translucent?), I still tend to think of myself as a much younger fellow.
It’s not that I’m dreading the inexorable ramble into my twilight years. It’s just that the part of my consciousness that informs my self-identity seems to be lingering somewhere in my late 20s or early 30s. I’m fully prepared to accept that this could be some neurotic delusion caused by certain lifestyle decisions made in my ill-spent youth, but so far it doesn’t seem to have had anything but a salubrious effect on my vitality level.
You can look at this in a couple of ways, I suppose: Thinking of yourself as a younger person is a lot easier when you’re fortunate enough to be fairly fit and healthy. Or, maybe that sort of self-identity makes some contribution to your good health. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. All I know is that it doesn’t seem like it would be much fun to embrace the whole “creaky old guy” stereotype the way a lot of folks do when they hit middle age. It’s kind of like they just assume that’s who they’re supposed to be at a certain point in their life. Like they’ve been handed a new script that’s loaded with episodes of gastric distress, aching backs and long evenings on the couch watching bad sitcoms–from which it becomes increasingly difficult to rise.
I don’t think any of us signed up for that sort of future. And avoiding it doesn’t mean you have to work out six days a week and give up drinking beer. (What kind of life would that be?!?) It just means that you don’t settle for the conventional notion that each birthday represents an inevitable slide into decrepitude. And you do whatever you can every day to recapture the vitality that powered you through life so naturally not so many years ago.
There are plenty of ways to do that, but this EL piece from a couple of years ago offers some pretty good tips, including:
- Get outside. The high-vitality elders that Dan Buettner studies in Okinawa, Costa Rica and other pockets of longevity enjoy an active life surrounded by nature.
- Cultivate community. A lack of close relationships has been shown to weaken our immune systems and sap our vitality. Maintaining strong social ties with others improves many aspects of both health and happiness. So does volunteering.
- Be a lifelong learner. More education leads to longer, healthier lives. A 2003 study published in the journal Neurology found an inverse relationship between how many years of formal education Alzheimer’s patients have and how quickly they succumb to the disease.
- Calm down. Chronic stress releases hormones that can damage cells, tissues and organ systems, all of which can shorten your life expectancy.
- Honor your promises. Each time you break a promise, whether it’s to a loved one or to yourself, you lose a sense of connection with your own values. Keep your promises and you gain integrity and self-respect, two main ingredients for vitality.
- Plug your “energy leaks.” Notice where you are losing energy. Reevaluate lifeless jobs, negative relationships, poor eating habits, sedentary patterns and other parts of your life that drain your energy.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation increases your odds of suffering from both heart disease and diabetes. And it reduces your immunity and your ability to cope productively with everyday challenges.
And I’d add this one: Celebrate each birthday by noting how small the number is.
In other news . . .
My employer has offered health screenings to all of its employees as a way of reducing health care costs, so I bicycled over to a nearby club one morning awhile back and let them take my blood pressure, draw some blood and take some measurements. I did 34 pushups during the strength test, which seemed like a pretty good number. But my blood pressure was 194/95, which seemed like a pretty bad number. The last time I had that measured, it was something like 120/80, so I was a little perplexed and explained to the technician that I had just bicycled 6 miles to the club that morning, but she didn’t seem to think that would contribute to a higher reading. So, now later today, I’ll be talking on the phone with a wellness coach, who I assume will be counseling me to do some stress management work to bring my blood pressure down. Maybe I should’ve demanded a recount.
I took our dog, Brigit, for a run recently and found that she had trouble keeping up to me. That made me feel pretty good about my newfound interest in jogging–until I recalled what her vet said about her during her latest check-up: “She’s doing pretty well for an 86-year-old lady.”
Last week, I accompanied MLW to her weekly yoga class and found myself huffing and puffing through a 75-minute routine led by the joyful Jinger Stanton. The good news? My left knee has improved enough over the past year that I can actually bend it enough to pretend to do some of the poses. The bad news? My quads and hamstrings are so tight that I can barely reach my shins when trying to touch my toes. Stanton assures me that if I keep at it, I’ll eventually stretch those hammies out enough to reach the floor. Hard to imagine, but I’ll be optimistic.