6 Reasons To Rethink The Idea Of "Aging Gracefully"
Ever since the publication of my book Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being, I’ve suddenly become viewed as an “expert” in what our culture calls “aging gracefully,” a term that we would do well to ignore.
The term itself is rife with resignation and inertia. It suggests that there is nothing that can be done — and that we must simply sit back and resign ourselves to doing what our culture has taught us about the inevitable decline in our bodies, minds and spirits with each advancing year. Gerontology is, after all, nothing more than the study of the pathology of aging. Healthy people are not included.
With that said, here are six ways to rethink this notion of “aging gracefully," and instead live fully as long as you’re here.
1. Own that your beliefs are powerful — often more powerful than genes.
The research of both Dr. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. (author of The Biology of Belief) and Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D. (author of Counterclockwise and Mindfulness) have shown that the very act of thinking and behaving as if you are in your prime actually reverses the physical decline we call aging.
Plus, the science of epigenetics proves that it is the environment in which a gene is found that determines how that gene gets expressed. And that environment is strongly influenced by your thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
So, for example, heart disease “runs in my family.” But so does “putting on a brave face to cover up heartbreak.” In fact, I actually had bouts of chest pain starting around menopause that went on for a little over a decade — and every single bout was associated with some kind of heartbreak that re-created a childhood wound of feeling unloved and abandoned.
My emotional pain would have led to an inevitable heart attack (which is how many family members have died) had I not uncovered the mind body connection underlying this pattern. But I healed it within myself.
2. Think critically about "nature vs. nurture."
The dichotomy of what we learn, versus what we are born with, is a huge topic when it comes to what we call aging. Why? Because cultural assumptions (what I call "portals"), not biology, actually teach us how to “age.”
Your chronological age can become a potent “biosymbol,” which can profoundly affect your biology if your cultural programming about it remains unconscious. Obnoxious terms like “ women of a certain age” become cultural portals, which are nothing more than shared belief systems.
I’m routinely asked by women’s magazines to provide health tips for women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s — as if our biology inevitably changes with each advancing decade. But I have long known that this is an entirely false and misleading way to view reality given that there are 80 year-olds with the biology of 35 year-olds and vice versa. The same is true of magazine articles like, "How to dress in your 20s, 30s or 40s" and so on — as if suddenly the decade you are currently moving through should dictate your state of health and personal sense of style.
These portals are nothing more than a convenient way to sell magazines and to program society’s members for “what to expect” as if this reality is set in stone.
3. Redefine your terms: what we call “aging” actually begins in childhood.
But we don’t call it “aging” until a person hits about age 40. We do this even though you can find fatty streaks in the arteries of children on poor diets, a health detriment having nothing to do with age. Similarly, sitting for more than six hours per day begins to lay down dense fascia in the joints of people in their 20s, later leading to hip problems. Also, unstable blood sugar from a high glycemic diet begins to create cellular damage in our teen years. These problems are about lifestyle, not about age.
In fact, our bodies are very self-healing — and we don’t often notice these changes until our 30s or 40s. The cellular damage done by lifestyle has nothing to do with getting older other than the fact that the body will tolerate the abuse for only so long. When the body finally presents its bill, we say, “Getting older is a bitch.” But this has nothing to do with getting older. And these changes can very often be reversed!
4. Adopt what Dr. Mario Martínez (author of The Mind Body Code) calls "Centenarian Consciousness."
Based on studies of more than 500 healthy centenarians all over the world, Dr. Martinez has found that healthy centenarians all share the same characteristics. They are future oriented and are rebels who have very often been black sheep all of their lives — surviving and thriving despite the same losses and challenges that everyone on the planet also goes through. Healthy centenarians do not identify with their wounds or with what society (or their families) expect them to do or be “at their age.”
5. Reframe getting older for what it actually is — the opportunity to increase your value and competence.
Stop celebrating “milestone” birthdays. Instead of merely planning special celebrations for when you reach a certain chronological age, celebrate accomplishments — like learning to dance or learning a new language, writing a new book, or completing a dream trip.
6. Recognize that the fight against age is counterproductive.
In other words, don't fight getting older. Practice the “causes of health” which have been outlined by Dr. Mario Martínez: These are exalted emotions (joy, happiness, awe), elevated cognition (gratitude, compassion) and righteous anger (speaking up when your own or someone else’s innocence has been threatened — e.g. you observe someone berating a waitress). Tapping into these emotions and ways of perceiving our experience can literally become causes of better health.
These reasons (and more) are invitations to rethink what it means to live each day of your life to the fullest. In doing so, we can change the cultural conversation about aging together. Because after all, the conversation really is about living.