It's What You Do Now That Counts
We have lately been hearing a lot of people talk about the new paradigm of aging: that we are likely to live far longer than we ever thought we would. That has all sorts of implications, of course, some of which relate to choices we made a long time ago or things we did or did not do, way back when.
What we are learning, though, is that it’s not just that past that will dictate our future. And the idea that only people who achieve great success while they are young will ever amount to anything is false. See what Rich Karlgaard, Forbes Magazine publisher, has to say in his book Late Bloomers.
The good news is that our future will be materially influenced by the choices we make now. Scientists have demonstrated that what we choose to do now will affect not only how many years we stick around, but also what kind of shape we will be in. News to us, but really good news.
We used to think our brains began inexorably to deteriorate as we got older. Wrong! Parts of our brains, particularly the hippocampus, which controls memory (dementia), can continue to generate new cells. (They call this neuroplasticity.) All we have to do is move. Often. Wendy Suzuki, an NYU Neural Science Professor, has the data to prove it, and is now researching whether there is an optimal amount of movement/exercise one should do—based on health, family history, and other factors—to generate the maximum number of brain cells. We’ll let you know!
Mindset matters. If you view aging positively, you are likely to live 7.5 years longer, and are less likely to be hospitalized, than those who view age with dismay and anger.
When we have positive attitudes, our bodies follow suit. Hotel workers who were told that their work gave them good exercise lost weight and lowered their blood pressure and body fat. Those who were not given the good news showed no such benefits.
Per waking moment, the young may be more creative. But those of us with age, experience and tested judgment have more “creative yield.” Just think about the average age of the Nobel Laureates. Fifty nine! And getting older.
Stress is a killer. Exercise, meditation, movement of any kind, reduce stress and protect the brain.
Engagement, communication, relationships all contribute to physical and mental health. Indeed, it appears that loneliness and isolation present a greater mortality risk than obesity.
Diet, of course, matters and the Mediterranean diet may be the best. But you knew that!.
So the point is—you are getting older but you are not on a downward trajectory toward a dismal end. On the contrary, you have developed traits over the years that can make aging magnificent. Don’t worry about all the things you wish you had done if you had known you might live to be 100. Regrets won’t get you anywhere. Focus on what you can do now. And take a brisk walk.