The Secret to Aging Gracefully


winePhoto courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

At any given moment in my life, I am busy perpetuating a lie, and many of you are, too.

We’ve been conditioned to associate getting older with negativity in many aspects, but particularly how we appeal to others. Consequently, middle age incites a mild panic as we furtively participate in rituals that promise to make us look and seem younger than we really are.

As our predicted life spans have now passed the three-quarter-century mark, many of us are faced with the reality of old age. Thus, we spend excessive amounts of money and time on cosmetics, treatments and procedures in order to maintain the illusion (delusion?) of youth. To go out into the world armed with nothing but our True Faces is akin to a triple-dog-dare, and definitely NOT something that I am up for.

However, on my journey toward complete self-acceptance and unconditional self-love, I asked myself if there was a way to age more gracefully.

And as it turns out, there is.

I was introduced to just the motivation I didn’t even know I needed in Phyllis Sues, a woman with an earnest life motto: “To look good and feel good is work. To look great and feel great is a full-time job. The reward is liking myself and living a creative life.”

Before you chalk her up to just another life coach with nothing behind her words but a high price tag, hear this: Phyllis is 53 (years older than me). Can you do the math if I tell you I’m 37?

Phyllis’ zest for life and determination to have her mind and body live as one spurred me on to learn more about the science of aging. Armed with knowledge, maybe we could all be more like Phyllis. I was intrigued by what I learned.

While there’s no denying that muscle mass starts to decrease and reaction time slows down, some areas of our brains actually start to improve in our 60s, 70s and 80s. Contrary to popular belief, neuroscientists now know that the brain’s dendrites grow longer and increase in number in our later years. Dendrites are the branches that brain cells need in order for neurotransmitters to create synapses.

This information tells us that, not only is it possible to age gracefully, but our brains are actually wired to allow us to do so! Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gene D. Cohen, MD confirmed that our ability to coordinate both hemispheres of the brain improve in the last third of our lives, making us better at solving emotional problems and paying attention to our life experiences. There is great potential for complete fulfillment in our later years.

Naturally, in order to take advantage of those longer, more proliferate dendrites, we’ve got to keep our bodies alive and healthy long enough to reach that stage of life in good shape. This means putting concerted efforts into moving, learning and listening to your body and mind. As the saying goes: “A dog walking through a field of cotton doesn’t come out wearing a suit.”

It’s important to have a good handle on what happiness looks like to you, but no plan is worth a damn unless it’s put into action. As Phyllis says, “There is a way to beat the clock. Stay fit and enjoy the journey. Accept the challenge and go for it!”

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