Looking at the above picture, I’ve wondered if the photographer told me to put my pinky in my mouth like that, or if I was a smart-ass even back then. Apparently some things never change…except my mom’s mullet. Thankfully, she left that in the 80s.
Today’s class at holistic nutrition school started off with a heated topic: Growing old, and aging well…from a natural nutrition standpoint. Who doesn’t want to find out more about what they can do NOW to be happy and vital well into old age?
The conversation was actually quite heated, especially when the teacher, Sara Gebriel of Present Health (my cooked bean pal from our recent video) asked us a very interesting question: Who here has pictured themselves 30 or 40 years from now?
There was a notable pause in the room as we all reflected on the question. My hand was one of a few that went up. I’ve totally thought about what it’s going to be like at 70 or 80. In fact, this is my Grammy and Gramps below, and my Grams just turned 80 in July. Talk about aging well! They both look pretty cute and happy to me, so I think I’ve got lots to look forward to.
When we got to talking about what we wanted for ourselves when we were in our 60s/70s/ 80s, there were lots of different responses. I personally said that I want to be surrounded by family and loved ones, and I want to still be laughing really hard.
One of my classmates, a fellow yoga teacher, said that she wanted to be the 70 year old that burned past all the 20 year olds on the grouse grind.
Another, the only guy in our whole class, said that he wanted to have ‘the 3 Vs’, which I think were vigour, verve and vitality. (Bill, if that’s incorrect, please leave a comment below.)
The teacher then asked us if what we were doing now was setting us up to be aging well and on our way to how we envisioned ourselves as we grew older. Food for thought.
Here are some tips from our curriculum, and from John Robbins’ book ‘Healthy at 100’ about how some of the world’s longest lived people have gotten to old age with a high quality of life, and how you can set yourself up to be happy and old, not just old:
1) No sedentary lifestyle: Many of the cultures studied in the book have a high level of activity. Note the difference between activity and exercise: Exercise is somewhat contrived. Activity is natural, day to day stuff. There was an emphasis on song and dance, swimming or mountain climbing, depending on the terrain, and of course they also had the necessity to exert energy in order to gather food.
2) Respect for the elderly: This is a big one. Many of these cultures appreciate elders for their wisdom and experience, thus growing old is something to step into with pride and confidence. ‘Round these parts, it seems more on the agenda to resist our natural age and try to look 20 for as long as we possibly can.
A culture which respects its elders will naturally foster older people who feel good about their age and the experience and wisdom they have to offer, which means less stress, more contribution, more connection, and higher quality of life.
3) Nutritious, Simple Diets: This one is no surprise. Most of these cultures did not have any exposure to processed, refined foods. Were their near non-existent rates of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity a coincidence?
The diets of the groups studied were predominantly vegetarian with an emphasis on fermented foods and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Surprise, surprise.
4) Community and love! A huge factor to consider was the connectedness shared in small villages and communities. These people experienced joy and pain together with extended families and tight-knit groups. They celebrated friendship, and often ate as groups, especially during times of harvest. That’s how I want to grow old…surrounded by loving friends and family from a few generations. Fun!
5) Little stress. Partly because there was such a deep connection to nature and activity, which would naturally keep endorphins high and cortisol low, stress levels were a fraction of what they are now. Instead of being stressed by exposure to images or movies filled with violence and materialism or anxiety about sitting in traffic for hours every day just to get to a job they didn’t like in the first place, these cultures would experience stress around times of not enough food, or perhaps being chased by some wild animal. Stress is natural, and serves its purpose, but there is no single factor that ages us faster than high levels of chronic stress.
So, in summary, to age well, we need to: Get moving. Respect our elders and cultivate a community where age is valued not feared. Eat a simple diet with lots of vegetables. Surround ourselves with people who make us feel supported and encourage frequent fun and gathering. Minimize the stress in our lives.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? So ask yourself:
Is the way you are living right now setting you up to be the kind of old person you’d like to be?
I hope so.
I would LOVE to hear what you want for yourself when you’re 70 or 80. Please leave a comment below and share what kind of an elder person you want to be, and whether or not you’re on track.