As one of the founding partners of AGEIST, I’ve had the opportunity to personally conduct hundreds of hours of interviews, some of which you have been seeing in our newsletters and on our site. It’s an amazing window into our gang. Doing this work is like being at the center of a whirl of wisdom–a giant roadmap to the best practices of being our age. With each profile we do, the texture of the map gets richer.
What has made aging uncool?
It’s not that aging is uncool, it’s that people living in the current moment are looking at attitudes that were relevant 20-30 years ago. The media, especially, shows us an obsolete aging paradigm that has nothing to do with reality. Part of the problem is also that we live in a youth-obsessed culture, where 20-year-olds can’t fathom the idea of being 30, much less 50 or 60. What’s curious is that it wasn’t always like this. In 300 BC, when Alexander the Great was marching through Asia, the head of his personal guard was 65 years old and he carried a shield and a sword and was out there fighting. At 65, he was a healthy and hard-working man, and it was just normal. So what’s happened today? The narrative has changed because society’s view of aging has taken a negative turn. However, there’s this whole other group of people that are saying no, who refuse to disempower themselves.
Figuring out a new world view
I’ve interviewed and talked to many people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who don’t think of aging as some grim reality to be accepted. They all have programs in place about taking care of their health. They strenuously exercise–they’re into bicycle racing, lifting heavy weights, strength training, and really loading up their bodies. Humans are designed to work hard, and everything falls apart when we don’t. We’re living longer lives, thus we have to live better. Even if it’s true that as we age we’re faced with certain obstacles, what’s even more real is that if we “take it easy”, we’re going to die. We have to adapt to change, strive to be better and believe in our capabilities. When I studied martial arts, the toughest competitors were over 70; our Presidential candidates are over 65; Kim Gordon is 63; Tony Hawk is almost 50. And they’re all cool, fit, active human beings whose lives aren’t defined by their age. So what’s the secret to outmaneuvering society’s negative view on aging and to living better and longer lives? Here are 6.
1. Food is not what you think it is.
Food is fuel for your body and you need to think of everything you put into your body as having positives and negatives. So, if you eat something, you need to think about its effect. If you want to scare yourself, pull up some statistics that the life insurance people have put together about what they think a healthy normal BMI (body mass index) is: somewhere around 17%-18%, which is pretty fit. But most Americans don’t live by these terms.
The most important thing to understand about food is the glycemic load: a number that estimates how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it. When you eat something that’s sweet, your body metabolizes it quickly, and unless you’re going to go out and run 5 miles, your body immediately converts it to fat. If you want to learn more about glycemic load, read Ray Kurzweil’s book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. He explains it beautifully. So, all in all, learn about your food because food is really key.
I’ve talked to some people who say their exercise is gardening. Well, I’ve watched them garden and it is really intense gardening. Digging and shoveling are hard work. What I’m saying is that your body needs to be challenged. So, if you don’t want your bones to be brittle, apply load to your body. Your muscles, tendons and everything else will also get stronger and you’ll feel better all around. When your body is sturdier and your BMI is where it should be, you’ll move around your space much easier, much more fluidly and it’s going to totally change your mindset. You will no longer feel disempowered and weak. Strangely enough, just a little thing like feeling strong when opening the door can make a tremendous psychological difference.
3. Do not retire
If you Google “Retirement plus death,” you’ll see that the quickest way to die is to retire. I’ve spoken to experts; one of them was Dr. Connie Mariano who was White House Medical Chief under Clinton and Bush, and I asked her why presidents live so long, much longer than the average person. She told me that they all have a sense of purpose, they don’t stop and they certainly don’t retire. People in general need a sense of purpose and in most people’s lives it’s their work. The key is to keep busy, to keep dreaming, planning and hoping.
4. Stick with what works
Probably the best book I ever read about middle age and aging is Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. She talks about a certain point in your 50s, more or less, when you reevaluate, recalibrate and you look back at what works and what doesn’t. You have to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work and do more of the stuff that does work. That applies to your friends as well; stay with the people that are better for you. What’s more, declutter your house. Hagerty also talks about concentrating on something you’re great at, instead of something you’re only good at. So does Peter Drucker, the famous business author, who says you should stop trying to be good at everything and get great at one thing. You essentially have a second life now, so spend it doing something you excel at surrounded by things and people that add value to your existence.
5. Embrace the way you look
If you’re keeping busy with other things, like exercising, being great at something and having a sense of purpose, questions about wrinkles and looks become inconsequential. Embrace the way you look and take care of what you have as best you can. If someone doesn’t like the way you look, they’ll just have to get over it.
6. Recognize that the time is now
You never know when life is going to end. You might have a certain amount of control over your longevity, because you take care of yourself, see good doctors, etc. But, the truth is you don’t have full control of everything and things happen. So, the time is now. That thing that you want to do, do it. If you’re happy doing what you do now, do twice as much of it. And if you don’t like something about your current circumstance, change it or try to adjust it. Don’t wait.