When I get up in the morning, I creak. Seriously, I am like the tin man looking for his can of oil. My bones creak and groan and I have to unfurl myself slowly like old parchment left rolled up for too long.
Then, when I look in the mirror, I get a little shock… “Who is that person staring back at me?” When did my vibrant goddess self get replaced with this grey-haired woman with the soft jowl and crinkly Mrs. Santa Claus smile?
And, for that matter, where did I put my glasses and how come I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday? Worse yet, when did time speed up and doctors get so young?
As I contemplate the state of my own changing life, I know that I am not alone. In fact, every day, 10,000 people turn 65 and by the year 2060, over 20% of the US population will 65 or older. And, centenarians (those who reach 100) are the fastest growing segment of the US population – increasing by about 75,000 people per year. For all of us marching into our wisdom years, our way of moving through the world is changing, bringing both opportunities and challenges.
In Chapter 1 of his book, Spring Chicken – Stay Young Forever, or Die Trying (Grand Central Publishing; 2015), author Bill Gifford begins by comparing the lives of his grandfather and his great uncle, Emerson. While the brothers were only over a year apart, Uncle Emerson was a slow moving, sickly, grumpy old man, confined to the porch, huddled in blanket and resigned to die. His brother, Leonard, on the other hand, was a vital man, full of optimism, zest for life and boundless curiosity.
Emerson died in a nursing home, with a mind ravaged by dementia at the age of 74, while Leonard lived a vigorous and joyful life until his death at 86. So what might have attributed to the difference? Gifford spends much of the rest of the book answering that very question. As it turns out, genes may have something to do with it, but not as much as you think. Up to the age of 85, our lifestyle choices are the biggest predictor of the quality and length of our lives. After the age of 85, we have to hope we have inherited the ‘live long’ genes of our ancestors!
Many of you have heard of the famous University of Minnesota ‘Nun Study’ which began in 1986, that demonstrated that nuns who showed evidence of a positive outlook, curiosity and interest in learning were more likely to live longer and show fewer signs of dementia. However, as Dr. Christiane Northrup points out in her book, Goddesses Never Age (Hay House, 2015), the nuns with the positive outlook, who lived longer, had just as many plaques in their brains at death (physical signs that indicate dementia) as their short-lived, Alzheimer-plagued sisters – they just didn’t exhibit the traits.
I realize that it is all well and good to just say “be positive, stay happy, and embrace your wisdom years”…but the reality is MUCH harder. I find that I have to reframe this life experience and really look at this as a journey. I am never going to be as nimble or quick as I was at 25 and many of the dreams that I had in my youth are not going to come to fruition. However, I can focus on making good choices, enjoying my friends and family and remaining curious, connected, adventurous and fun-loving. I can look for the good in others, the joy in change and set new, shorter-term goals for myself.
Finally, I want to laugh – a lot. I want to march forward into the future by giving myself permission to be cheeky, irreverent, bold and cheerful. I want to surround myself with others who won’t simply give up or give in to inevitability – but rather, are willing to experiment with our new selves, see humor in the change and rejoice in our shared experience. And, I want to learn to dance… so where’s that oil can?