NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2013

What's your 'real' age?

Boomer Talk
Angelena Craig

---- — How old are you?

I am asked that question infrequently, and usually by someone who has not yet learned they should never ask a woman how old she is after a certain age. Personally, I don’t mind all that much, but the truth is sometimes — well, sometimes — I lie. If and when I do reveal my chronological age, I am usually met with disbelief, so why bother? One’s birthday, like our weight, should not be common knowledge. Besides, there is the disturbing prevalence of “agism,” which is just as harmful as racism and all the other societal “isms.”

Rather than looking at the date printed on a birth certificate, my preference is to consider one’s true age from the test results given by a whole-health physician, like the respected Drs. Memhet Oz or Andrew Weil. They assess all the diverse factors to determine how old you really are. They look at your mind and body, as well as your lifestyle, and come up with a marker for your “real” age.

Chronology might say you are 60, but your physical health could reveal you to be much older or younger, depending on these factors. Your mind may show you how much you have aged when you are no longer thinking clearly. Your attitudes may reveal you to be old-fashioned and inflexible or, hopefully, you have accepted and grown with the changing times in which we now live.

You might ask yourself what your assumptions about aging are. Do you feel old? Do you believe you are already “over the hill” or fast approaching that stage of life? Do you assume that, with age, you are likely to become depressed, diseased, decrepit and then die?

There is only one thing is predetermined, and there is no getting around it: Each of us will die. But, in the meantime, we may live a life of vitality and joy. Longevity may not be a universal goal for everyone. There is a growing number of people who do not hold a long life in high regard — unless it a life with some degree of high quality. We boomers, more than past generations, are looking at our late-in-life choices and considering just how do we stay young and healthy.

Good health depends on many different factors starting with the genes, but our inherited biology is just one part of the equation. I look at my own family. Folks tended to get sick and die younger than they might have. However, they all had a sedentary lifestyle and ate diets that were high in fat. It is with relish that I remember my grandmother’s noodle pudding, which was made with two pounds of white noodles, one pound of butter, and equal amounts of cottage cheese and cream cheese. It is true that the dish was delicious, but down the road, each of these family members became sick with cancer and heart conditions.

The scientific evidence is in. It is almost always suggested if we want to stay in good health, we need to pay attention to our diet and the supplements we take. A Mediterranean diet of primarily fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes is often recommended.

Should we decide diet matters, we can let go of certain foods and eat more of the healthy choices, but as one wise elder once told me, “It’s not what you eat, it’s what’s eating you.” If stress eats away at you, it doesn’t matter what foods or supplements you ingest. You still may very well become ill. Living with constant stress can be regarded as the No. 1 destroyer of our life.

Research has also shown us we need to have a regular program of exercise. Of course, you may agree with the late actress and comedienne Phyllis Diller who said, “My idea of exercise is a good brisk sit.” But should you decide to start a serious exercise program, you need to have three parts to your routine: flexibility training (as the Yogis say, “You are only as young as your spine is flexible”), strength training for the muscles and bones, and aerobics to keep the heart and lungs strong.

It is also suggested that we need to exercise the mind by doing puzzles or learning a new skill. Researchers are working nonstop to prevent Alzheimer’s, which is so rampant in this aging population, but we have to do our part to help prevent this loss to our minds. Other factors that help to slow down the aging process include relying on a strong social network and creating a sense of relevancy by still contributing to society and having a job to do, whether it is paid or as a volunteer.

Is there room for improvement in your life? As the poet Dylan Thomas reminds us, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” or do you prefer to give up and give in by “going gently into that good night”?

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Angelena Craig of Newburyport is the director of The New Aging Movement and a professional-level yoga instructor. Visit her website at www.thenewagingmovement.com or email angelenayoga@verizon.net.