“Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
Wise words that echo a timeless sentiment. As our world is radically transforming around us, so are our perceptions on growing old.
Turns out, growing older isn’t a bad thing after all, in fact if we will it, our overall happiness levels actually tend to rise with ageing. One reason might be that we typically are faced with fewer stressors related to work and relationships as we grow older.
But psychologists also speculate that we acquire a more balanced lens to view life — through hard-earned experience.
Growing awareness of our own mortality may help us appreciate our lives more, instead of comparing our circumstances to others and striving for more material things.
And research shows that it’s our attitude and quality of connection to others that influence our satisfaction with our lives. A Harvard Study of Adult Development which tracked participants into their 80s and 90s, found that lifestyle factors have a bigger impact on happiness levels than wealth or fame.
“Subjective health” (how healthy you feel) has a greater impact than “objective health” (whether or not you have health issues).
Grow Older, Feel Younger!
In other words, our mind set and feelings about ageing can play a big role in how we approach it.
That’s one reason why many seniors don’t see themselves as “old” at all.
According to a Pew Research Center study, about half of young adults aged 18 to 29 say they feel their age. But 60 percent of adults over 65 say they feel younger than their age. Only three percent feel older than their actual age. (In contrast, about one quarter of people in the 18-to-25 age group say they feel older than their age.)
So, if “old age” is not a static stage of life, then the oft-repeated phrase “you’re only as young as you feel” may be a good guide to graceful aging. And our ability to remain open to new experiences and to grow and change may also be a key component to aging with dignity (read: grace).
Here’s one ageing definition that’s perhaps too concise: the accumulation of damage to our cells, a process which starts as young as the age of 24.
It’s an incomplete definition because it only accounts for the physical causes of aging, not the psychological impacts of physical changes. And to be fair, each one of us has journeyed through life accompanied by our unique set of circumstances — age could take its toll on some of us far earlier than others.
So, What Constitutes Graceful Ageing You May Ask?
Consider some factors:
How do you approach each day?
It isn’t necessarily how well we hide the outward signs of growing older, but how we approach the activities in our daily lives that makes a difference.
Keeping in mind, everyone’s circumstances are unique. We can never fully understand what an ailing, grieving, depressed, anxious person is going through. These cases are sensitive and requisite professional assistance and care- giving.
For others who are more fortunate. It’s your choice.
Do you wish to start each day with relish or regret? Are you all fired up to complain about life or do you see the humour in situations?
Do you go through your day with activities that make you feel good? Which bring you true joy?
Are you living in the past? (it’s a major cause of sadness), or being accepting of and even savouring the present moment?
If we understand the purpose and meaning of our lives, we’ll be more prepared for the inevitable challenges of growing older. We can adapt to change more easily.
A mature perspective can be one of the rewards of ageing—benefits that are backed by science. Research has found that seniors with positive attitudes toward ageing, experience far less cognitive decline. And those positive feelings can even lead to a longer life.
Of course, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude if you have medical problems experience loneliness or suffer from depression. But if physical or psychological problems are influencing the way you feel about growing older, talk to your doctor, therapist, or someone else you trust.
As an increasing number of Indians enter their senior years, more help is becoming available, albeit slowly.
These are a few questions to ask yourself and the answers will point you to whether your approach to life is positive – or not.
Are the external signs of ageing bothering you?
It’s possible to predict some events in the physical ageing process by decade of life. (For example, by age 60, most women have completed menopause.) But as we get older, it’s often harder to guess a person’s age.
A combination of lifestyle, genetics, and just plain luck influences how old a person appears to be. Simply put, we all age differently. And since we can’t control time, ageing slowly isn’t possible. (Those birthdays are going to happen every year, no matter what we do.) But some people do seem to look younger than others of the same age.
These external factors often play a role in how we feel about our age, even though we’re reacting to elements that are only appearance-based. As a result, many people are upset when they start to see the visible signs of growing older (especially if they still feel young).
Although we know that we shouldn’t stress about these signs, sometimes it’s hard not to.
Our society tends to view signs of aging as something to hide instead of celebrating. So, we don’t always recognize the rewards of this stage of life. Even when we’re told that “60 is the new 40,” for example, the underlying assumption is that being 40 is inherently better than being 60. Ads and articles of 65-year-olds looking 45 and climbing mountains, may also impact us in a way where we feel inadequate or more “aged” in comparison. But – here’s where grace plays an important role. Grace helps intervene your “mind attacks” and grounds you to see and acknowledge your blessings.
To Grey or not to Grey…
One thing is clear: Grey hair is a normal part of ageing, and it’s unavoidable no matter what you do.
As British humour writer P.G. Wodehouse said, “There is only one cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.”
But graceful ageing doesn’t necessarily mean accepting wrinkles and grey hair and learning to love them.
You can choose to colour your hair any shade you like as you could do skin procedures that cut the years off. Whether or not you choose to cover your grey is a very personal decision.
To age gracefully means to pay attention to what makes you truly feel good, honour it, and go with the flow of your choice.
Men fret over balding more than they do over ageing. The truth is once you accept your balding (avoid combing hair over to the other side, it’s not a look that works!); once you make your peace with your bare head you could actually be in a better place than men with hair.
Want to appear more sensitive, intelligent, influential, educated and honest to women? Lose your hair.
This is what women perceive bald/ing men as.
Again, this is a personal choice. With innumerable hair growth (miracle) treatments out there — you get to choose.
Although if I were a guy, I would rather be in the distinguished company of great balding men like – Socrates, Napoleon, Aristotle, Gandhi, Darwin, Churchill, Shakespeare and Hippocrates!
Ageing Skin woes?
For some seniors, in addition to deciding what to do about going grey and getting bald; looking great (however you define it) also involves making decisions about skin care. After all, wrinkles, fine lines, areas of pigmentation, and age spots are another part of the normal ageing process as our skin becomes drier, less elastic and a sitting duck for hormonal changes.
With age, some of the lifestyle choices we made back in our youth may show up in our skin. (For example, not using sunscreen, bleaching the skin and other skin damaging habits).
What’s done (or not), is done. Just remember this: You’ve earned your wrinkles and laugh lines. As fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg said, “My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?”
Of course, many of us try to keep our skin looking youthful as long as we can. That’s why you’ll find hundreds of skin-care products making big promises related to aging. But beware of getting caught in a cycle of always obsessing for the magical youth serum or procedure.
Most skin-care products don’t work instantly, so you won’t see immediate results. In fact, cosmetic companies make a lot of money from our ongoing quest to find the best anti-ageing skin-care product.
Also, remember that good skin starts from within. No matter how much money you spend on anti-aging treatments, if you’re not looking after your health, it can show in your skin. Good nutrition, noble thoughts and deeds, moderate exercise and sleep can all help.
Aim for healthy skin rather than youthful skin — you will find reasonable satisfaction with the result.
And sunscreen is essential—even on cloudy days, plus a moisturiser daily, works wonders.
Ultimately, when it comes to our faces, our attitude may be more influential in how we’re perceived than our wrinkles. That’s because people who have a happy demeanour and expression, are often recognised to be younger.
Senior Hygiene: Old smells?
Even seniors with impeccable hygiene can develop a distinct “senior odour”. Although this is sometimes referred to as “old person smell,” the correct term for the cause of the odour is nonenal. (Pronunciation of this word is with a short “e.”) And contrary to popular belief, it’s not caused by poor hygiene, instead, it’s the result of the normal skin-aging process:
Our skin produces omega-7 fatty acid.
The acid degrades when it oxidizes on our skin, which produces a chemical called 2-nonenal. This chemical has a marked (musty, grassy, greasy) odour.
As we age, our skin produces more fatty acids. At the same time, our bodies’ antioxidant abilities decrease. The result is an increase in 2-nonenal production.
Seniors sometimes experience lifestyle changes that can make the smell stronger. For example, an elderly person might not bathe or shower as often if they’re afraid of falling or other reasons.
Can You Get Rid of Nonenal Smell?
Yes. But it requires conscious effort. Just like traditional body odour, following a healthy lifestyle can help to minimize 2-nonenal. This includes exercising regularly, avoiding stress, abstaining from smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, eating a clean diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough rest.
That’s partly because normal soap doesn’t necessarily prevent nonenal. Odour removal must target the specific compounds produced by the skin. Although most soaps are formulated to tackle the smell of perspiration, many aren’t effective with nonenal. A Japanese skincare brand * claims to have found a botanical combination that does the trick: persimmon (an edible fruit that resembles a large tomato and has very sweet flesh), and green tea.
The tannins in persimmon extract help to break down and wash away 2-nonenal, and the antioxidants in Japanese green tea are believed to detoxify the skin and extend deodorizing effects. The company offers this combination in many different forms, such as bar soap, body wash and even fabric spray.
In addition to nonenal soap, lifestyle changes can help:
- Drink lots of water.
- Wear cotton clothing so that your skin can breathe easily.
- Bathe or shower regularly.
- Moisturize after bathing or showering.
- Exfoliate (gentle scrub) your skin.
- Reduce your stress since it can increase the production of nonenal.
- Wash your laundry on a regular basis, if possible.
Posture. Posture. Posture.
If you remember walking straight while balancing books on your head, and your dance and yoga and fitness trainer reminding you about your posture then you probably don’t need to read this part. For others, it’s important to keep reminding yourself to stand tall, shoulders back, feet balanced and firm on the ground.
Seniors are at risk for osteoporosis, muscle loss, and compression of the discs in the spine. The result can be a distinctive stooped posture, as well as aches, pains, and mobility limitations.
Plus, how you carry yourself helps boost your confidence. So good posture and mobility can help with all aspects of aging gracefully, especially your ability to enjoy activities. It can also protect your health since good posture reduces the risk of falling and helps with breathing.
But improving your posture isn’t just about reminding yourself to stand up straight. Often, you have to retrain and strengthen your muscles.
Here are some good ways to work on your posture to avoid age-related changes:
Stretch. Try doing some simple stretching exercises or yoga. Staying flexible helps prevent muscles from tightening and keeps you supple.
Sit up straight. While you’re sitting (especially at a computer or in front of a TV), focus on engaging your core muscles. Don’t thrust your head too far forward. You may have to move your TV or computer a bit closer to you.
Maintain a strength training program. Strength training can address the muscle imbalances that lead to poor posture. (As always, talk to a doctor first!)
Improve your core strength. Pilates, yoga, and gentle calisthenics are great activities for core strength. Swimming is also good. A personal trainer can help you create a program.
Talk to your doctor about supplements. Vitamin D supplements and medications like bisphosphonates can help strengthen bones. But they carry some risks, so consult with your doctor first.
The Best Part of Ageing Is Finding the Blessing of Grace — Profound Lessons of Ageing Are the Most Rewarding…
We’ve learnt too well by now that nobody grows old just by living a number of years. We grow old by allowing our mind to (negatively) control us, by deserting our youthful ideals, by succumbing to untruths.
Years can wrinkle the skin but losing our spontaneity and enthusiasm wrinkles our soul!
The amygdala is the part of the brain that unites emotions and memory. If there’s one thing we can be thankful for diminishing as we age, it’s the amygdala function – because when it weakens, it makes us focus more on the positive rather than the negative.
In fact, there is what is known as the ‘amygdala hijack’, where our immediate response to an issue is emotional and overwhelming: your brain’s response to emotional or psychological stress. This lessens as we age, because our thoughts and actions become more rooted in the conscious mind, rather than the unconscious.
When we minimise the negatives and maximise positives, it’s simply easier to view life as a happy place.
Prayer — can also influence stress and coping, and it has been shown to be related to happiness and feelings of general well-being.
So can spirituality. A mindfulness practice is increasingly being seen as effective in controlling stress and anxiety. People of all ages, especially older persons benefit from such activity. Studies have indicated mindfulness meditation positively impacts a host of physical health outcomes.
For those who take full advantage of all the available tools to improve their life and lifestyle, they wind up happier. Its perhaps the letting go – of a lifetime of the past – whilst spontaneously accepting the present.
As you realise what really counts in life and refuse to submit to the notion that “ageing just makes life tougher,” you’ll be one happy person and a self-sufficient one, at that.
If you’ve made peace with yourself and evolved into your twilight years — grace shall indeed be your perfume — that you, everyone around you, can savour every day.
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