Aging Well: Attitude and Action.

Posted on May 6, 2010

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I’m always shocked when I hear people say they don’t want to live a long life because they don’t want to get old. Maybe this is something I hear more as a health consultant, but I frequently hear this in casual conversation as well. This is shocking and sad to me. One of the things I notice most about these people is that they have no elderly role models, especially as it relates to healthy, vital aging. This concept was summed up well by the monk who hosted me in Japan; “must die healthy!” he often said. Many people in Japan do exactly that: they are active, productive, and social, into their 80’s, 90’s, or even longer and they die comfortably and quickly at home surrounded by friends and family. But my point here is not about how to die, but rather how to live, really live. Now in his 60’s, the monk easily keeps pace with me on long mountain hikes – or am I keeping pace with him? He wears no glasses, even to read. Perhaps surprising to some, he eats some meat, likes to drink, and often eats too much. This speaks of balance, not abstinence or extremism. His mother, now in her 90’s, seems to run circles around me, constantly active, smiling for no reason and singing to herself. And no she’s not on Prozac. Or anything else for that matter.
When I travel, I pay special attention to how people age, and how they got there, and how the society treats its elderly.
The fact that people in our culture fear aging so desperately is a testament to our failure to age well as a society and our tendency to partition the elderly, to disengage them. There are many reasons for this and I would like to stay away from a complex social critique here, but the primary reasons are clear; we have almost entirely lost any sense of tradition or common sense when it comes to food, lifestyle, and community.
To compensate, we have medicalized aging, and have a quick fix pill or surgery for every symptom of the dreaded dis-ease of change. This approach teaches us nothing about how to live, and lets us stagnate in a limbo of resistance to change and fear of death.
It’s not easy to resist one’s culture. Like so many, I am a cultureless North American, a city dweller, and it has been a long and winding road to some semblance of a personal culture and striking a balance where I feel at home. We often do not have a solid and effective lifestyle or food tradition on which to draw. (I say effective, since not all traditions are necessarily health and happiness promoting.)
On this quest, many conclude to resign themselves to the inevitability of aging as their parents did, or find various extremist paths which become the new neuroses of the modern condition.
There are many paths to splendiferous aging and so much to look forward to: Wisdom, self-knowledge, community, family, and finding an ecology of mind and body that can only come with time, are just some of the possibilities.
This is one of the concepts I try to teach, live, and continue learning about; an essential component of that, for me, is to find role models of exceptional aging. I plan to write more on this in the future. For now, here are a just few fun examples:
Jack Lalanne, health and fitness guru, now 95!
Unique Brisish DJ Ruth Flowers.
Local Yogi Anna Carola Van Schoonhoven.
…and i’m always looking for more.

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