Want to feel more hopeful about your prospects for aging well? Look around: You’ll see clear evidence that a lot of how you age is pretty much up to you.
I just turned 47, and when I look around me, I see people in their 50s and 60s who have the fitness and vitality of people in their early 30s. Sure, they have some gray hair and wrinkles, but as a rule, those look good on them. And if you didn’t look at their faces or hair, you probably would have a hard time guessing their true age.
I know because I bike with a group of guys a little older than me — many in their early 50s — and in helmets and sunglasses, particularly when they’re passing you at 30 miles an hour, it’s tough to tell them from their much younger counterparts.
One guy in particular, my pal Elrie, just keeps getting better with age. I met him 25 years ago. Back then, he smoked three packs a day, didn’t exercise much, and had no real energy or vitality about him. On a bad day, he easily looked (and probably felt) 10 years older than he was.
Today, Elrie is so fit and healthy that hardly any of the younger guys in our biking group can outpace him. He looks terrific, has tons of energy, and since he’s seven years older than me, I think of him as a sort of role model for vital aging.
He’s also a testament to how over-engineered the human body is: It’s so brilliantly designed that (if properly maintained) it can coast to 100 in a healthy, vibrant state. Even without proper maintenance, our bodies can carry us through decades with only minimal complaint. They can also rally and recover from all kinds of abuse — from the neglect of a sedentary lifestyle to a three-pack-a-day habit like Elrie’s.
But remember the “evidence” I mentioned earlier? It works two ways: A body that’s getting what it needs can bounce back from early damage and become even better than it was in its youth. But a body that’s not well taken care of tends to start showing and feeling its age early on.
It’s up to each of us to decide. If you want to live life at your best now, to still be exploring your fitness limits in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, and to hit your 90s still active and able to care for yourself, you’ll want to take the great advice offered up in this issue.
Meanwhile, here’s my own personal top 10 list of things you can do to age with grace and vitality:
- Strength train regularly — to maintain muscle mass and functional fitness.
- Do varied, balanced cardio workouts — to keep your heart, lungs and circulatory system strong and your oxygen delivery high.
- Get balance-building and proprioceptive exercise — to develop strong neurological connections and minimize the loss of balance that can lead to injuries.
- Maintain a regular stretching and flexibility practice, like yoga or Pilates — to prevent stiffness and maintain tendon elasticity and range of motion.
- Eat mostly whole, natural, high-volume foods (lots of veggies, fruits and legumes) — to get maximal nutrition density with low caloric intake, amplifying your immunity while minimizing unwanted weight gain.
- Avoid refined flours, sugars, preservatives and chemical additives — to minimize the toxic load on your body.
- Complement and enhance your food-based nutrition with supplements geared to your personal needs (at minimum, a multivitamin, a multimineral and essential fatty acids), to ensure you’re getting the building blocks your body requires for optimal health.
- Exercise your brain with mental challenges (new hobbies, riddles, puzzles, crosswords, math games, etc.) — to keep your synapses active and your gray matter growing.
- Spend time enjoying and respecting nature, relaxing and reflecting, and building strong relationships with the people you love — to balance your body-mind and nourish your soul.
- Find ways to give to the people and causes you care about — to share your gifts, express your gratitude and amplify your happiness.
If you’re doing all these things now, chances are you’re feeling pretty good. Keep it up, and you’ll probably keep on feeling good for a good, long time. That’s my plan, anyway.