Spoiler alert: I don’t have the secret to staying young. No magical elixir; no fountain of youth; no miracle wrinkle cream.
But I’m learning it’s a mindset and a decision we make, regardless of what society’s definition might be.
I have all the badges of honor: wrinkles, sun damage, stretch marks, cellulite, wobbly bits, grey hairs (everywhere… sigh…). My “get up and go” ain’t what it used to be. Nearly six decades of life have taken their rightful toll. My body is not immortal. It is designed to wear out, and to have an expiration date. I know all of this. Still, at times, it’s hard to get my head around this fact.
As we have all heard, “youth is wasted on the young.” I think the sad part of this is that you don’t really “get” this truth until you are old.
OK, I need to stop here and chastise myself. I rarely use the “O” word in reference to myself. I saw a meme recently that resonated:
And of course we all have heard the platitude of “You’re only as old as you feel.” This is not a good platitude some mornings after you’ve passed Level 50.
The cruel truth of life is that by the time you gain the wisdom to live it well, your body won’t always keep up. However there are some ways to milk the most of this mortality thing.
Around the age of 54, I got my act together to getting into better shape (better late than never). I lost a lot of excess weight, and I began to exercise regularly. This wouldn’t have been the first time in my life I attempted both feats, but it was perhaps the most meaningful. I knew I was headed into the downhill side of my life, and that if I didn’t get my act together, I might not have another chance. I already was on medications to remedy issues that a healthy lifestyle could take care of. I wasn’t aiming necessarily to dial back the clock; I just wanted to avoid unnecessary wear and tear.
I once saw a story of a woman who in her youth had been very sexy, had made it to her 60s with a great body, beautiful, shiny long hair, and no doubt a little help from her plastic surgeon. She set great store by “looking young.” One day she was walking on the beach and heard a male voice behind her flirtatiously proposition her, “Hey baby, what’s up?” she turned around, to watch the considerably younger man’s look of shock upon seeing her face (Ugh, THE FACE doesn’t lie). “Oh, excuse me, ma’am,” the guy stammered awkwardly, as he made a quick get-away. At this point the woman started questioning her motives in perusing the Phantom of Youth at her age. What did she really want?
I understood her quandary. It is hard when men stop flirting with you, much less stop looking. However, I had to confront myself with the question of why I still worried about skin-deep beauty. It was sad to realize I too have been putting stock in that Phantom of Youth. All that needs to concern me is how attractive I am to my husband… in particular how lovely my actions, thoughts, and words are. Still, I want him to think I’m “pretty” or “attractive.” And I know it’s about the whole package.
Now on the cusp of the a new decade of life, I’m still searching for ways to stay in optimum physical shape. Some things I apparently have little control over, but I’m diligent to search for ways to improve what’s inevitable: heart arrhythmia? Be brave and have a procedure to correct it. Rheumatoid Arthritis? Natural remedies (such as anti-inflammatory diet and supplements) are really helping, as is yoga; Sciatic pain? I stay active. But most importantly of all, I needed to stop being obsessed about looks, and what I perceived others saw.
Last week I received my first order of Young Living Essential Oils. I have friends who have long sworn by them, and availing ourselves of God’s pharmacy and food. My goals are to eat cleaner, seek natural remedies, and to stay clear of processed foods, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals whenever possible. This will help my insides, which may (or may not) help the outsides. I drummed up the courage to sign up for a week-long yoga teacher training class. I LOVE yoga, and ALWAYS feel better when I maintain a regular practice. I don’t know that I’ll ever teach, but I do want to deepen my practice and learn how to keep it in my life as long as possible (LOL, and no, that’s not me, but I hope someday it is… I’ve yet to master “crow.”)
Training ourselves to recognize and appreciate inner beauty in others (and in situations) is a mighty step towards seeing it in ourselves. This is not an easy discipline.
We will all grow old, it’s inevitable. We will all someday pass our peak of youthful beauty and energy. And it’s a fact we won’t properly appreciate our youth and vitality when we have it. Growing older is not an option. How you do it does present options. For my younger friends, here is what I know about the quest of growing old gracefully (both the physical and spiritual):
- Education: Don’t ever stop learning. Take classes. Read. Learn a new hobby or skill. Keep an open mind. Travel (outside your small circles… this need not be abroad, but get out of your comfortable hometown bubble occasionally to see how others live).
- Talk to young people: Get outside your bubble and go places where you can understand (without judgment) the next generation. This could be as simple as taking your grandkids to the park or offering to babysit for a neighbor, or volunteering at a school or at church. Don’t become the older person who reviles what they can’t understand.
- Give back: Find at least one worthy cause to invest your time in, to help others: the poor, the sick, the young, the elderly. Nothing feels as good as doing for others.
- Eat cleaner— “close to the ground” and as little processing as possible, meaning: vegetables, fruits, smaller portions of lean proteins; processed grains sparingly. Paleo is the buzz word for this (Note: This is really hard, and a constant struggle for me). Note: IMHO, Chocolate and wine, in moderation… ALWAYS OK!
- Find an exercise you love and do it regularly (walking is great; structured group classes are also good: many YMCAs have awesome programs).
- Youthful pursuits: This is hard, as we often equate such pursuits with lots of energy. I’m here to tell you that adult coloring books are awesome and relaxing, as is kayaking, flying a kite, or biking. None require extreme agility or strength.
- Avoid excesses and quit bad habits (and addictions). Among these would be excessive alcohol or food, smoking or drugs– even stress. I have a serious unhealthy non-nutritive snacking problem. It’s hard to reign in, but it sabotages my health and weight goals.
- Don’t obsess about your scale (unless your health care provider shows you evidence that your diet and weight are causing health problems). Of course if you are seriously overweight you are burdening your body and increasing all risks of diseases, disabilities, and early death.
- Use sunscreen daily, and don’t spend a lot of time “tanning.” Trust me, having biopsies and pre-cancers blasted off your face is NOT fun.
- Use makeup that suits your age and lifestyle (for some this might mean none; for others it means staying close to natural; heavy makeup on older faces is never a good look… as much as you think you’re covering up age, everyone can tell).
- Dress in a way that suits your age and body, and accentuates your positives. Yes, there IS such a thing as timeless fashion, and it generally doesn’t involve a lot of skin showing and 5-inch heels. Trends are hard to resist, but not everyone’s body looks good in short shorts, tight leggings, or tank tops. Everyone woman should own that “Little Black Dress” (which you can endlessly accessorize), but make it one that suits you… it need not be so “little” or short or revealing, keep it classy. In the reverse, a wardrobe of sweats, T-shirts, and baggy/stretchy loungewear shouldn’t be your mainstay.
- Hair: Again, choose a style and color that suits you. Short hair styles look adorable on some, and not on others. Same with long hair! Shorn hair, another matter. The key to timeless beauty is to maintain a good cut, natural color, and putting a little effort into styling it daily (few of us are blessed with a natural look that works day to day, which is why a little length can go a long way in easy and classy up-dos). I think it’s regrettable that some women default to a short “mom do” or “The Cut” (check out this SNL skit) because short hair is “easier.” Lastly, I’ll say this: choosing to go naturally grey is a brave, brave thing. Some of my friends have done this, and I totally get dispensing of the chemicals in hair color. I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be ready to go naturally grey. Maybe I’m not fooling anyone about my true age, but grey removes ALL doubt and sometimes creates a different sort of discrimination I’m not ready for.
- A purpose beyond yourself (your own desires, your own ego): last, but not least, I think we all need something greater than ourselves to motivate and inspire us to a greater good. Some people refer to this as a “higher power.” It answers the question we may ask, “why is life worth living?” As a Christian, I have been blessed to know what this is.