Vickram Sethi contemplates the odyssey of ageing, as he turns the page on another birthday
When I turned 50, a childhood friend sent me a message “the best thing about being 50 is that you are not 60!” I laughed at that time. When I turned 60, she sent me a similar message about not being 70. Now that I have turned 70, she is unfortunately not there to send me another message as she passed away in January this year.
I always have this notion that being old does not necessarily mean becoming weak, less competent or helpless. Two bouts of Covid have changed all these since, and now I feel weak, unable to run up the steps. I lose patience trying to tear open a sachet or untie a knot. The Bible prescribed three score and ten is the age to live up to i.e. 70. Now that I have crossed the milestone, I wonder what the future will be. Post Covid one thinks of death a little more than usual. I find the word death very strong. Unki death ho gai. Could there be a more polite way of putting it than – he has stopped breathing – “Saans lena bandh kar di hai?”
When we glance in a mirror, we are taken aback as to how we got to this stage. We all have an image of ourselves that we are 30 so we always think we are younger, which is why we don’t notice our own ageing. Guess that’s because changes are far too subtle and then one day you see the old man in the mirror. Like stuff hanging on a hanger, those once well-tapered shoulders now have skin covering the bones, the muscle seems to have disappeared, the chest now supports man boobs, the tight waist is now a loose tyre, the tight buttocks and thighs now a mass of loose fat. Muscle loss often starts at 40. The skin loses elasticity (the real word is sag), there is change in eyesight and even hearing loss.
When we age, we lose muscle strength particularly we lose fast twitch muscle fibres. They are the ones that prevent us from falling when you catch your foot on the step and need to steady yourself fast. The net result of all these changes increases our vulnerability to disease as even a small fall can result in a fracture, which runs a chain of other complications.
Ageing is a fact that many of us don’t want to face literally. Yet with every tick of the clock, each one of us is ageing. To accept that we are getting old and change your lifestyle is easier said and done.
Once you understand the process of ageing, you can give it into it and understand what you can and cannot control. It is probably the only way to enjoy the journey of ageing and retain your independence. Ageing affects every system of the body and different parts get impacted differently. There is also an extraordinary level of variability amongst older people. No two 60 year olds age alike.
A lot of research is being done to find the magical anti-ageing pill and as of now there is no answer but the right supplements and vitamins help make the journey more comfortable.
The only answer to anti-ageing is exercise; it produces beneficial effects and pretty much everything we need. Exercise improves muscle strength, cardiovascular and respiratory system exercise is also a great mood booster and supports brain and spinal health. It is important to do some kind of physical activity as simple as carrying your own shopping bags. My grandmother would get up in the morning, churn the buttermilk while reciting her prayers, have a bath and continued her prayers recitation. By 8.30am, ready breakfast for a household of 10, fresh paranthas, fresh makhan and some buttermilk in the summer. The kitchen was her domain. She cooked lunch, afternoon tea and dinner herself. Her simple logic was that all this activity would keep her healthier otherwise she would get bedridden very fast.
The trick is to prioritise what we love and find interest that requires physical and mental engagement. It could be Sudoku, gardening, knitting, cooking – not the usual dal chawal stuff but something that you haven’t done before. YouTube is a great source for recipes. Just going shopping for groceries, vegetables can become a mood changer.
Today, psychiatrists have developed a theory of self-sabotage. We start thinking that we are getting old and we can’t do certain things and this becomes a vicious cycle. Your belief that you are less capable eventually leads you to becoming less capable, less mobile and less social. To fight these, we need physical and mental engagement to keep our mind away from these negative thoughts. There are everyday things that all of us should do to enable us to lead our lives to the fullest extent possible. We should think of what makes us happy and set some tasks, goals and objectives for each day or week that may give us a sense of purpose.
The fact is that even if you have the healthiest exercise, diet and social regime in the world you could still suffer from some disease and no matter what you do, you are definitely leave this world one day. It’s time to focus on ageing well rather than the idea that getting older means that one is approaching death, which is only a moment at the end of life’s journey. Once you accept that it can be quite liberating. This is the time to think that you are not dead and life is to be lived. One should enjoy the living as much as one can.
As I turned 70, I saw this old man and I saw myself just as I am. Do I wish I was 30 again? Not really! I have lived life to the fullest in every decade.
Yeh duniya ek sarah hai.
Yahaan ki har cheez hai aani-jani
Yeh jawaani jo jaane na aayi
Aur yeh budhapa jo aake na jai