Our society doesn't offer many models on how to age well. I think that's changing, which is very good for everyone because whether we like it or not, we're all aging. But if you look around today, we don't have many examples of how to move into our 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond gracefully. And let's not even discuss the "D" word (death). That's a whole other blog post. Which begs the question: should we be taught how to age well?
What does it mean to age well and gracefully?
I'm reading this wonderful book by Marie de Hennezel, renowned French psychologist and therapist, called The Art of Growing Old: Aging with Grace. I like how she describes the difference between "growing old" and "being old." Being old is becoming bitter about the aging process and refusing to age. Growing old is not preventing life from fulfilling its potential to bring forth new things, right up until your very last breath.
Aging well, and with grace, then is learning how to navigate the third phase of life so that we can be present with the inevitable changes without fighting the process the whole way. Just like we teach children to be aware of and understand the changes that happen when they go through puberty, I'm suggesting that we can teach adults how to be aware of and understand the process of aging on a physical and emotional level.
Changing the conversation about aging
Did you know that by the year 2050, one out of every six people will be over the age of 65? That's a lot of folks going through the aging process at one time. Yet, our society still treats people over the age of 65 like they've got some disease that no one wants to talk about. As if, aging is some virus they caught and can be spread to young people.
If there ever was an oxymoron in the English language, it's the word "anti-aging." It literally means to prevent the process of aging. I don't care how much money anyone has to do botox, plastic surgery, fillers or whatever, you cannot stop the aging process or death. By the way, the anti-aging industry is projected to be $83.2 billion by 2027. Maybe someday in the future, we will be able to make a 75 year-old look like a 25 year-old. But is that what we really want? I hope not.
At the same time, we are living longer but not necessarily more healthy into our older ages. The National Council on Aging reports that older adults are disproportionally affected by chronic such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Eighty percent have at least one chronic condition, and nearly 70% of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more. In a 2019 report published by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), 35% of people 65 and older report having some kind of disability (difficulty in hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living) and 49% of people age 75 and older reported having a difficulty in physical functioning.
The fact that we're living longer isn't necessarily a good thing if our healthy years are less than a longer old age fraught with health issues, less mobility, and dependence on people who don't want to take care of us. What good is a longer life if it means eternal dementia?
Growing older doesn't have to be all doom and gloom where we become irrelevant and decrepit. We also don't need to delude ourselves into thinking it's a "golden age" or the "best years of our lives." Old age is neither a complete disaster nor a golden age. How we age is up to each of us. The more we talk about it and share our experiences, instead of hiding the fact that we're aging or shaming ourselves for something that is inevitable, the more we can learn from each other.
Learning how to age well
We must then learn how to "work" at growing old to prepare ourselves for this final stage of life. The generation that is now in their 40s and 50s must model how to grow old well so younger generations can learn from our experience. It's not just about eating healthy, exercising, and taking care of our bodies as best we can either. Our state of mind dramatically affects how we experience life, and aging.
How we react to stress can age us prematurely: one traumatic event can accelerate the aging process on a cellular level-including shortened telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of our strands of DNA that wear down as we age. In the book, The Art of Aging Well, Marie de Hennezel says that along with taking care of our physical selves, we must be able to do the following as we age:
1. Adopt to changing situation, retaining confidence in our own resources
2. Accept our limitations with good humor
3. Learn how to refuse what we don't want to do
4. Ensure our daily routine incorporates time devoted to doing what we enjoy, in peace
5. Find a supportive community of people we can be a part of
Right now, we clearly don't know how to age well as a society, paying attention to our emotional and spiritual needs as human beings. More of us need to stand up and talk about our aging process. Won't you join me on this journey and share your experience so we can all age with grace into our 70s, 80s, and beyond?
Join the free community Aging Well with Yoga and a Sense of Humor. This group is for anyone who wants to age well using yoga tools and a sense of humor. Here you'll learn about ancient yogic tools you can use to set yourself up to age well. You'll also laugh your ass off.
Peace, love & yoga,