Ultra-Aging: Ultra-Living at Any Age – Part One
I’ve become very interested in researching and writing about anti-aging, that’s what happens when you turn 60. Then my colleague pointed out that a lot of anti-aging information is based on fear.
I thought about that. She was right.
What I am really interested in is continuing to be as vital as possible as I get older. With my research, much of what I found about aging was really interesting. And the actions to take to remain youthful and robust are for every age, so really this is also about ultra-living
I also realized that I challenge the assumptions about aging. I feel like I’m just getting warmed up and ready for the next phase of my adventurous life!
Our culture gives us an image and idea of aging that we need to be careful not to just wholly assume.
What do you think of when you think of aging? Declining health? Chronic disease? Cognitive decline? Reduced purpose?
While aging happens and affects us, I believe there is a lot we can control about the process, and we should not just give in to the status quo assumptions.
Is it possible to slow and maybe even reverse aging? In my research, yes. Agility, vibrant health, mental sharpness, and purpose are not just the domain of the young. I have myself made a personal commitment to keep my health and vitality as robust as I can for as long as possible. Don’t we all want to strive for ultra-living at any age?
There is a lot of research on what helps slow the impact of passing time, and some of it may surprise you! Below is a list of my top ultra-aging, ultra-living strategies:
Nutrition: Eat the rainbow!
There is only so much that anti-aging lotions and potions can do. No anti-wrinkle cream will make up for a poor diet. A nutritious diet full of colorful phytonutrients (plant pigments) and with the right amount of energy from calories is a key factor in reducing the impacts of aging, as is eliminating food which speeds up aging. Many years ago I was tired, had brain fog, and my body was achy. Out of desperation, I gave up gluten and sugar. The result was increased mental clarity, energy, and an 18 pound weight loss. I now pack my diet with colorful nutritious foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Foods like bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli and others contain antioxidants with tremendous anti-aging properties. Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals, increase oxygenation to the skin, and are good for collagen production. Phytonutrients help protect against the damaging effects of toxins, reduce inflammation, preserve memory, protect bones, and improve skin and hair. My 83-year-old mother is still actively working as a nurse in a hospital. She eats a huge colorful salad every day. Think about that!
As we age, it is expected that we become weaker, more inflexible, and less agile, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some time ago, I decided to add yoga to my morning routine. I’ve had my share of stress throughout the years and have an hour commute to and from work. My body had grown stiff, sore, and my shoulders hunched. So, I started yoga with an online beginner’s class that gently guided me in stretching and aligning my body. Within days I noticed a difference in how I felt. In time, my yoga practice has increased my flexibility, strength, mobility, range of motion, and balance. These are qualities of a more youthful body. If you don’t have a yoga practice, start slow and simple. There are many sources of beginner yoga classes at studios, gyms, and on the internet. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are starting, adding more movement and yoga will help! Yoga is considered meditation in motion. Research on meditation shows that it can increase the brain’s anti-aging hormones DHEA and melatonin and decrease the aging stress hormone cortisol. Trade in 15-30 minutes a day of computer time for yoga and movement time and see what happens.
A few years ago I realized how depressed, dark, and hopeless I felt after watching the national news. I looked in the mirror one day and saw a worried hollow look on my face. I realized that every day there was a new bad story, and I didn’t want to hear it anymore. So, I shut it off, I had to. In place of the news, I increased my daily intake of what I found inspirational instead. Feeling inspired keeps me feeling lighter, more optimistic, and expansive. When I am down or discouraged, I reach for information that helps me feel motivated, alive, and full of possibility. These are some of the emotional qualities of youthfulness. Find what inspires you. A consistent diet of bad news takes its toll because stress increases the hormones of aging. Studies have shown that positive emotion combats stress and reverses some of the physical damage caused by stress. For youthfulness, health, and wellbeing, it is vital to generate positive emotions. Reduce what you can that causes you to feel down, and instead take in what helps you feel inspired and positive.
While I see inspiration as a positive emotion that results from the intake of positive information, I see love as the master anti-aging emotion. Love comes in many forms such as compassion, empathy, romantic love, and divine love. Gratitude is a form of love that expresses love for the blessings in our lives. There is much research on gratitude and its health benefits. Gratitude has such profound and dramatic effects on our bodies, minds, and brain that I would consider it the secret fountain of youth! I am grateful for so many things in my life including my amazing beautiful son. At times, this love overwhelms me. When I trade in a feeling of irritation and stop to think what I am grateful for, now I am altering my fate: I am improving my physical and mental health and slowing or reversing my aging process.
While stress is a health-destroying syndrome, one of the best antidotes is right within you! A regular gratitude practice has been shown to reduce anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Just a few minutes a day of a simple gratitude technique will boost your health and may increase your youthfulness!
- Sit quietly with yourself and take a few slow deep breaths and relax.
- Focus on your chest/heart area.
- Think of 3 things you are grateful for in your life.
- Think of 3 people you are grateful for in your life and FEEL the appreciation you have for them.
- Think of 3 things you are grateful for about yourself. FEEL appreciation for these things.
Take time every day to do this and watch what happens.
This is my absolute favorite anti-aging technique. As I mentioned earlier, our society gives us strong outward and subliminal messages about what it means to age. I counter this message by going into my imagination. In our imaginations, we can enter a timeless space of possibility and imagine whatever we choose for ourselves. I spend time each day imagining positive outcomes for myself, my health, and my circumstances. When I am told or feel I am too old for something, I imagine differently.
Can this really make a difference? Yes! And there is evidence that it can.
It is well established that mental rehearsal, or the act of imagining we are doing something, makes a difference in athletic performance. Imagination affects our physical performance!
One of the most fascinating examples of the effect of imagination on our bodies is a study completed by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. In her 1981 experiment, her research team placed eight men in their late 70s in a monastery redecorated to mimic the atmosphere and culture of when they were 20 years younger. There were no mirrors, only photos of them 20 years younger. The participants stayed in this environment for some time and the results were extraordinary. At the end of the experiment, the participants “were more supple, showed greater manual dexterity, sat taller…their sight and hearing improved.”
While she did not publish this study, she chronicled it in her book Counterclockwise. Learning of this study really got me thinking. How much of how we age is spurred by our expectations? How much can we truly slow or reverse aging by focusing not on the status quo but by choosing to act and think and imagine on our own behalf? Ellen Langer noted that it is time we stop separating the mind and body—they are one .
In her words: “Wherever you put your mind, the body goes.”
Where will you put your mind?”
I have outlined a few of the things we can do to improve our health and stay younger. Through nutritional choices, movement, positive emotions, and imagination, I believe we have a lot of control over our wellbeing and aging destiny. I hope you join me with your own health-promoting choices!