The Ageing Rebellion
How my children and my 30 – something self laughed at the Saga adverts, them teasing me that one day I’d be 50 and eligible for that beige wearing, cruise living lifestyle, and me smugly thinking it was another lifetime away. Actually, being 50 was great and I didn’t suddenly develop a desire for elastic-waisted baggy trousers, or socks with sandals. We can all shimmy along in short skirts and high heels at 50, having been persuaded that 60 is the new 40. Yet how much of this is surface dressing, a belated but welcome change in attitudes towards ageing, rather than actually feeling young and juicy, with a brain to match?
It is Interesting the incongruities we are being fed with regard to older age, well illustrated in the last few weeks. On one hand, there is a massive coup for the silver brigade, with Dame Judi Dench at 85 becoming the oldest person ever to appear on the cover of Vogue, meanwhile, elsewhere it was being bandied about that the over 70’s should stay in full lockdown solely because of their age, which 77-year-old Michel Palin had something to say about, “ … you’ve got to be more selective here, because there are a great deal, a great number, of people in their 70s who are very active, very thoughtful…” Quite.
A blanket judgement that all aged 70 plus are to be treated differently to youngers, is ageism at its purest, a misplaced assumption that ageing automatically means you lose the capacity to look after yourself and your health. Author of ‘ Slow’, Carl Honore, has recently penned ‘Bolder’, which is brimful with examples of older people living long, often astonishing lives around the globe. He is on a mission to alter the language we use about growing older, to overturn the outdated thoughts about being a more advanced age. A ‘senior moment’ whilst meant in jest, still projects the thought and subsequent belief that we are going to become forgetful as we age. Not quite true. To those of you with teens, enough said? For those of you with none: ‘I forgot’ is one of the most oft-heard expressions.
There is nothing wrong with ageing, the very fact that we continue to age, means we are still alive. Happily, more than ever before, the capacity for a long and healthy life is possible, yet despite this, advanced age is more likely to be accompanied by chronic disease and dementia-related conditions. So the de trop polarity; more people are living longer, but chronic disease caused by a toxic lifestyle is higher than ever. This is not an old age I want for myself.
THE REVOLUTION IS UPON US
I’ve long been saying to those who would listen (or were kind enough to humour me), that I intend to live until I’m 120. Both my parents lived to their mid 80’s, but our genes are not a surety, a 65-year-old friend of mine died recently (pre-COVID) yet his mother is still going strong at 88. In fact, genes account for only 20 – 30% of whether we will live a long life.
Author and scientist Gregg Braden (whom at age 5 decided he was living to 200 – seems I set my bar a little low), maintains that we have been conditioned to think of longevity with the breakdown of our human body, that we have only so much lifespan in our “tank of life”
and we use some of this each day until it runs out, but this is a linear model of ageing. He explains that science now reveals we can replenish that tank each day, and that we have a cyclic rather than linear model of age progression.
Looking for inspiration to the five Blue Zones, the areas where people live the longest and healthiest, there are common denominators:
- good nutrition
- an active stress-free lifestyle
- family and community connections
- enough sleep
Sayer Ji, author of the recently published tome ‘Regenerate’, adds to the above, highlighting the importance of brain fitness, living with purpose, feeling gratitude, and keeping toxic exposure to a minimum. Take one major component out of the equation and health may be adversely affected.
HOW TO LIVE AGELESSLY
Good nutrition – long considered by many natural health practitioners to be the foundation of a healthy life, the plant-based diet is now being recommended by the medical establishment too. In the Medical News Today, a new study suggests that “eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in animal products such as meat and dairy lowers the risk of cognitive decline in later life.”
An active stress-free life – for probably the best single form of exercise that covers all areas – body mind spirit – in later life, look to the Chinese. According to Harvard Medical School, “Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls.” Qigong is another form of Chinese energy training which by using breath and small hand movements can both energise and calm.
Family and community – the importance of this has been drawn to our attention over the COVID lockdown with a variety of studies stating how social isolation as much as the virus itself is likely to lead to death in the elderly. Loneliness and isolation have long been known to negatively affect mental health and wellbeing. In the Blue Zones, the older generations are still firmly ensconced within the community and have a role to play.
Sleep – the myth that you need less sleep as you get older is, well, a myth! People in their 70’s and 80’s need 7 – 8 hours per night, but if other factors in the living agelessly plan are not in balance it is likely good sleep will be compromised.
Spirituality or Mind/Spirit – as is becoming increasingly apparent, the mind plays a huge part in how we individually will fare as we go through life and this applies to the later years too. Feelings of gratitude and appreciation engender peace and acceptance, which promotes happiness, and therefore a desire to continue being alive, because it is just so much damn fun.
Brain fitness – good news: your IQ does not lessen with age. I read this recently and decided to test it out, so retook a proper marked Mensa test, which I last did aged 21, and notched up the same percentage – though I must admit to sweating a tad waiting for the results to arrive. We know about the benefit of keeping the brain active, about learning new things to keep neurons firing and making new connections, so embracing mental challenges is excellent for cognitive health.
Living with purpose – we need this at any age to truly feel fulfilled. It does not diminish with older age, in fact, it can become more of an insistent voice. No one really wants to sit in a chair staring out of a window all day, or just mobility scootering off to the day centre. A zest for life can continue until we die, whatever form it may take, a person needs a passion. Check out this fabulous 76 year old!
Limiting toxic exposure – it is no surprise the Blue Zones are unspoilt parts of the world, with clean air and water. Toxins damage more than just our physical health, they can prematurely age the brain. Dr Daniel Amen has scanned many brains and maintains the major things that cause premature brain ageing are: drugs, (including marijuana, and pharmaceuticals) alcohol, mould exposure and anaesthetics.
REBEL AGAINST AGEING NORMS
Although ageing norms appear to be changing in the media, with more older models being used for clothes and body products, there has been a recent sneaky influx of ads about needing incontinence pants at 40 or younger, which makes me want to explode – a case of 40 is the new 80? Do please, determine not to be fooled by this nonsense. I’ve had 5 children and still have a great pelvic floor because I’ve exercised it. I intend to be a fully continent and competent 120 year old, thank you very much. So do remember that intention counts, as reported by Time.com our mindset can change how we age, “It comes down to daily behaviour and the choices we make,” says Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) “We have a growing set of studies of people from around the world showing that ageing is not just an aspect of genetics but of how we live.” Deciding to live better, it increasingly seems, is the same as deciding to live younger.
Me? I’m off to Sardinia as soon as I can draw my pension, where I will dispense my wisdom to any wandering sheep and goats that care to accompany me. Wearing not purple, but my monochromatic classics with a surf girl twist, growing my hair waist length, tripping barefoot, picking figs and pomegranates as I go.
Helen is a nutritional therapist and freelance natural health writer, interested in metaphysics, Taoism, babies, cats and chocolate, though not necessarily in that order. Having searched over 2 decades for the best ways to eat to live long and strong, Helen switched 12 years ago to a highly raw, plant-based diet which she loves.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org