When given the choice, few of us would choose to be old, rather than young and in our prime. Getting old is regarded by most of us boomers with fear and loathing.
Unfortunately, almost all of our preconceptions of old age are negative ones. And, curiously, for this stage in life, the descriptive words all start with the letter “D.” There is Dementia, Debilitation, Deafness, Doddering, Decline, Disease, Dependency, and — of course — Death and Dying. All this is enough to make anyone Depressed.
Current longevity statistics show us we are living longer lives than ever before, often arriving at age 80, 90 or even 100. With all the medical advancements fighting disease, as well as, just recently, the attention put on ending the deadly opioid epidemic and addressing the prevalence of suicide, more of us will arrive at age 100.
The oldest living woman, from Japan, recently turned 117. Her photo shows her looking relaxed, smiling and offering us some hope that living to that very ripe old age can be a good thing!
My own experience is in teaching a chair yoga class to a man who turned 100 last week. He drives himself to class and then walks in, independently, without the assistance of a cane or a walker. Now, I have seen directly that it is possible to be active, engaged and vibrant even with this advanced age.
To live that many years, we need to have some luck, but it also involves taking care of ourselves, of our bodies, our minds and our spirits. While we cannot count on living in good health into old age, there is much we can do to slow down the aging process and also find joy in living.
It helps to recognize, and accept, the one definite outcome of getting old is “change.” There will be changes in how the body looks and feels, probable changes in the clarity of the mind, and — at some point — the inevitably of changing from living to dying. Coming to terms with our mortality is recommended to bring forth a bit of peace of mind.
There definitely are some positive parts of getting old, like having more time. Now you have time to make “the bucket list” and check off what it is you have always wanted to do, but had put aside because of your many responsibilities. Now you have time to put yourself first. There is time for taking care of your body by nourishing it with healthy food and staying physically active throughout much of the day, all of which will help ease stress, which we know is a killer. Ask yourself, “If I do not take care of me, who will?”
Another positive of getting old is you may grow into more assuredness of who you really are. You no longer care so much what anyone else thinks about you. You are your own person.
Looking back over the decades, you can see all that you have come through, all the struggles, all the wrong turns you might have taken, while sometimes even getting lost. Beyond just surviving, you have some accumulated wisdom that only life’s experiences can bring. You know you don’t have to go through any more dramas. You can relax more, not push so hard. You don’t have to repeat past mistakes. You finally realize if you don’t forgive others — or yourself — it is you who will suffer the most.
In his book “Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives,” Daniel Levitin tells us:
“I’ve come to see aging as not inevitably a period of decline and loss and irrelevance, but a period of potentially renewed engagement, energy and meaningful activities. If you look around the world across the 60 countries that have been studied, the peak age of happiness tends to be about 82. People get happier. You realize you’ve gotten through all these things that were stressing you out. If you make it to 82, you know you’ve managed and you’re OK!”
As someone who is turning 82 (at least chronologically, not biologically), I am thrilled to hear this good news. Getting old is not so bad, especially if I can now reach my highest peak for happiness. I am ready. I am anticipating the best year yet.
Angelena Craig teaches slow-flow yoga and chair yoga and organizes yoga retreats to Negril, Jamaica. Contact her through www.anewagingmovement.com.