I am often asked about aging well. I answer with a question: ” How old would you feel if you didn’t know your age?” After some preamble, I ususally then hear something along the line, “it’s all in your mind, right?” Much as we would like to believe that aging is in your mind – it is just not so. The leading cause of death is …. birth.
That being said, there is always a wide range of potential vitality, limberness, health, mood and happiness available to each of us at any point in our lives. Certainly staying fit and limber sets one up for feeling the best they possibly can at any given time. The more one has historically maintained the upper possible levels – the greater the potential to feel youthful and vigorous at that point in their lives.
Exercise, nutrition and flexibility help maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol thereby helping to maintain one’s sexual potential as well as one’s ability to function sexually – certainly signs of youth. Their abscence is certainly a sign of aging.
Being sexually active and having sexual desire puts a lift in one’s step, elevates one’s mood and inevitably lands a smile on one’s face.
Sex, exercise, nutrition and flexibility steers us towards happiness. These activities result in making us feel happier; and that translates into feeling more youthful.
Volunteering and helping others takes us out of ourselves and has been shown to increases happiness. Seeing a 6 year old, bald headed cancer patients who may never see 12 or may never experience the joys of life is a real perspective shifter. Volunteering (being of service) lightens the years we carry through the joy of giving, the joy being useful, the joy of giving joy to one so innocent and ill. Reading to children with cancer also rips away the defense that liking your life is dangerous since it sets you up for the other shoe to fall. Seeing that you have something you might not want a shoe to fall on sets your perception on the presnt – and the present is presently shoeless.
The next correlate to happiness is termed: “being in the flow.” The “flow” is a term of art, used to describe a state of consciousness in which you lose your sense of the passage of time as a result of being totally immersed in an activity. Flow can be experienced during exercise, while playing an instrument, making love and many other activities. Flow is correlated with happiness.
The third contributor to happiness is maintaining an active circle of friends.
If you are happy, healthy, limber, sexual, artistic, loving, and have community – then, you maximize the feelings of youth; you put a spring in your step, walk with a youthful gait, and emanate joie de vive.
HOW OLD WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOUR AGE?
You would most likely assess your age by how you felt. How energetic. How happy. How sexual. How blissful. How motivated and able you were to accomplish you goals. How much pain you suffer on any and all given day(s.) Pain is often affected by how limber you are.
The warmth of good friends, loving family and extended community lends one to feel integrated into the world and away from feeling like some useless and obsolete space holder just sitting around in God’s waiting room.
The good news is there are about 7 brain chemicals that are responsible for these qualities. In addition, a healthy lifestyle increases those chemicals.
The chemicals and what qualities they are associated with are:
1, Endocannabinoids: these are cannbinols (think marijuana) found in you naturally. Anandamides (from the Sanskrit for bliss) promote exactly that: bliss. They increase creativity and are increased by the creative state that of FLOW.
2. Dopamine: dopamine increases with setting and achieving goals.
3. Oxytocin (and or Vasopressin) increases with, and is increased by bonding, trust, loyalty. This speaks to the importance of friends and family as we stay younger growing older. Studies show Oxytocin increases for both the dog and their person when they are cuddling. Now there’s another great pet argument.
4. GABA: yoga, mindfulness and FLOW increase GABA. GABA is known as the anti-anxiety molecule.
5. Serotonin: increases confidence and is further increased by reaching goals. It is one of the main anti-depressant molecules. Being free of depression does not necessarily mean being happy. However being happy includes good serotonin levels. So setting goals and exercising- not to mention, eating correctly helps with maximizing serotonin levels.
6. Adrenaline: increases energy – a prime component of feeling young and vital. Exercise increases adrenalin.
7. Endorphins and enkephalins, decrease pain. Exercise, limberness (yoga) increase endorphin production resulting in less pain –which, in turn promotes feeling young and able.
These are the 7 basic feel good chemicals in the body. They are the basis for positive addiction in life. In addition to the physical endowments listed above. they increase information uptake (a sign of brain health) and pattern recognition, as well as increasing the ability to link disparate ideas (i.e. increasing creativity.)
One last point: Physical aging seems to be mediated by teleromes being degraded a little more each time a cell reproduces. Exercise and good nutrition slows that process of degredation. The same can be said for being happy, engaged socially, and creative.
Aging can be accelerated if you act your age when in fact you are physically much younger. You will not do things physically that will keep your body challenged. The same goes for metal challenges and your brain health. I saw a man 101 years old who finished the London Marathon a few years ago. Every mile he had a beer and a cigarette. I think it is fair to say he defied age and health wisdom – way to his advantage. Had he figured he was 101, shouldn’t run that far (nevertheless drink and smoke) I think it is fair to say he’d have long ago lost the ability to run a marathon.
Being in the flow, is being in a timeless, eternal moment. Free of pain. That consciousness slows down the chemistry of pain, which in turn slows down the process of adapting to pain (which includes, postural changes, mood alteration and the vicious cycle of greater impairment of many physical and mental facilities that are a direct result of that adaptation to pain.)
Plus being in FLOW is blissful. That results in the pumping of blissful chemistry which is competitive with pain, depression and the process of aging.
George Burns once said: “If I quit smoking when my doctor told me to, I’d have never lived to go to his funeral.”
Don’t smoke but do live without the tyranny of a number determinung your age.