“Aging is inevitable but growing old is optional.”
What an intriguing thought.
We are used to thinking the body will naturally deteriorate with each passing year. There are even impressive health statistics to support that notion. Achieving the status of aged pensioner brings with it long-awaited retirement benefits, which is the good news. But there is also the bad news; increasing aches and pains, thinning bones and departing memories. What if the beliefs that have been drummed into our heads about aging and the inevitable path to decline is merely an outmoded belief system, an erroneous cultural conditioning that unconsciously programs us for physical and mental obsolescence?
As it turns out, just about everything we have been taught about aging is wrong. Rather than a downward spiral, understanding and embracing the latest research opens up a new world of possibilities where our chronological age does not need to reflect our biological age (the actual vitality and function of our physiological systems). The number of years we live on this planet does not need to determine the quality of life nor the capacities to enjoy optimal health, creative expression and vital brain function.
I was a perfect example of aging before my time. During my early 40’s, I embraced a workaholic ethic, so admired by our culture. I worked 70–80 hours a week, and 45 weekends a year to create my successful counseling and educational business. I was stressed, lacking sleep, eating poorly and hormonally out of balance. My body was obviously screaming for help but I didn’t listen. I had arthritis, terrible hay fever, depression, insomnia, gut issues, an underachieving thyroid, anxiety attacks and night sweats. Obviously, depression and fatigue followed close behind. I felt like I was 80 years old.
Something had to change. I had to wake up to myself. I was determined to reclaim my health, which meant that I had to change many of my outmoded belief systems, eating patterns, physical habits and emotional imbalances. I began a journey that not only changed my body but also changed my life. I found the keys to unravel my hormone imbalances, reversing all the symptoms of perimenopause, anxiety attacks, allergies, arthritis, hypothyroidism and insomnia, and depression. What I learned led me to a new career in women’s health and I authored a bestselling book called “Hormone Heresy: What Women MUST Know About Their Hormones.”
I found my mojo again! I also discovered that new perceptions and behaviors were able to reverse my premature aging. After making my changes, I did some testing and found that my biological age, which had been decades older than what I really was, had reversed to that of someone twenty years younger!
It turns out you can exert significant control over your biological age. For so long, the standard response to “How do I age well?” has been “Choose your parents wisely.” But the latest scientific thinking suggests that up to 70 percent of aging is related to how you live. As little as 30 percent is genetically determined. This lifestyle-induced aging is known as secondary aging. Primary aging is the inevitable deterioration of its cellular structure and function. Secondary aging is the result of the accumulation over time of everything you do, or do not do to—and for—yourself, the choices you make every day about how you live.
That means everything from diet, exercise, and sleep, to how you deal with the big and small stressors of life, the quantity and quality of your relationships, your choice of employment, where you live, your attitude toward life, and your compassion for yourself. The research is clear: these choices, habits, and learned responses can, over time, make a big difference in how your body ages from the inside out.
Also, how we think about age—individually and as a society—can have profound effects on how we actually age. The idea that we can think ourselves young, that our minds could cause changes in our bodies, is what Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer, PhD, calls the psychology of the possible. It’s the notion born out by some fascinating and inventive research that if your mind-set is altered, your body will change accordingly.
Think or be cued “young” and your blood pressure decreases and your physical strength and mental acuity increase. Think young and your body reacts by becoming younger. In one of her most ingenious social experiments, she transported a group of old men to a carefully designed and controlled retreat where they were surrounded by cues to their younger years: magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, music. They were instructed to talk only about “current” events (from the 1950s), speak only in the present tense, and basically playact that they were living their 20-years-ago lives. They were subjected to a number of physical and mental tests before and after. After their week of living young, the men showed improvements in grip strength, manual dexterity, posture, gait, memory, hearing, and vision. They literally got younger.
In our culture, aging, especially for women, equates with minuses, not pluses, and the accompanying negative stereotypes associated with growing older. Does expectation rule outcome? Do you become what society expects you to become? Do you believe the message that all those “You’re 40 . . .or 50 . . .or 60 over-the- hill birthday cards tell you?
There is evidence that if you think “old,” you may usher in a self-fulfilling prophecy of decline. One study concluded that perceptions held by people about aging had more impact on how long they lived than did their blood pressure or cholesterol levels or whether they were smokers. Regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, or the actual state of their health, the men and women with positive views on aging lived 7.5 years longer than those who bought into the negative stereotypes.
We hold the code within us to create an ageless body at any age! We can be old while we are young...or young when we are old. Learning the code to growing younger is the key!
Sherrill Sellman, ND
Dr. Sellman is an international author, psychotherapist, women’s health advocate and seminar presenter. Through her books, Hormone Heresy?—?What Women Must Know About Their Hormones and Mothers Prevent Your Daughters from Getting Breast Cancer, lectures and seminars, she has empowered women all over the world to make more educated and informed choices about their health.