What can you do to slow or reverse the ravages of aging?
Aging is inevitable but how we age is more within our control than we realize. It helps to understand what aging is and the factors that accelerate it. Aging is defined as the progressive inability to respond to normal stresses, stimuli and injury. And it takes place at the cellular level.
Our cells are listening to our thoughts, and responding to how we move, what we eat, who we spend time with and our attitude. Just look around at your next high school reunion. By the 25th, it is evident that some people are aging better than others. You see it in their posture, skin tone, the way they move and their mental sharpness.
So, what can you do to slow or reverse the ravages of aging? Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
Understand your stress response and build your resilience toolkit. Stress is unavoidable. Start recognizing your thought patterns and how they feel in your body. I’ve been practicing mindfulness off and on for twenty years while raising my kids, persistently acquiring tools along the way. One tool I use when I catch myself ruminating is the acronym RAIN: Recognize the thought, allow it to be as is, investigate with kindness and practice non-attachment. Breath awareness, letting go and focusing on the present have also proven effective.
Find your movement balance and keep fine-tuning. According to the latest studies, we lose 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade from age thirty. Nothing stays the same. We are either getting stronger or weaker everyday. We must intelligently exercise all of our tissues including muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and organs. Various types of yoga, from sweaty to slow, have been a constant since my late 30s. Running, weight training and desk sitting have been a part of my regimen at other stages of life. But it wasn’t until I started canoe racing at age 48 that I was able to boost my overall strength in ways I didn’t know was possible.
Stop dieting and eat satiating foods. Diet is highly personal. But we know three cellular enemies are inflammation, insulin resistance and oxidative stress, which are fed by sugar and refined carbohydrates. I am pre-disposed to the Type-2 Diabetes that runs in my family. Despite decades of eating a plant-based diet I became pre-diabetic. Over the last three years I’ve transitioned to a low carbohydrate, high fat and moderate protein diet. I’ve brought my blood sugar under control, learned to prepare delicious and energizing foods and rarely feel hunger pangs.
Cultivate close relationships. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be your best self. Strong social connections are closely linked to longevity and health. Even better, a diverse group of friends of all ages, ethnicities and talents is not only enriching but will challenge and stretch you. Who’d have guessed I’d love racing canoes across the ocean with 30 to 65 year old mavens?
Keep growing. Stay curious and learn new things. You don’t know what you don’t know. A new interest may surprise you, as I discovered with ceramics at age 51. I can’t wait to get my hands in clay everyday! Creating is energizing, as is any new passion that challenges you to grow anew with a beginner’s mind.
Aging gracefully is possible when we continuously generate vital energy, contain it in a sound vessel, and let it flow throughout our whole being -- body, mind, and spirit. It can be called joy, love, breath, wisdom or chi. It is life itself.