My wonderful parents called me after the article I wrote on youth part 2 and asked me what were they in - youth part five?! They are both fantastic and their attitude to life an inspiration. Between them, they have lived through paraplegia, hip replacements, fixed ankles, legs being cut off, arthritis, crushed backs and the latest - cancer. I won't tell you the rest cos I don't want to depress you! Or maybe it would inspire you.
They stay remarkably youthful - joking and laughing (especially at themselves) is high on the activity agenda. Living on a property in 'sort of outback' Queensland keeps them fairly active and independent - they have to be - the nearest neighbour is a few kilometres away!
My parents aren't growing old - they may not be physically young but they are wiser and staying young mentally. Instead of viewing age as a curse, they do all sorts of things that help them stay fit and active. Mum especially. She's willing to experiment with all sorts of techniques and exercises and natural therapies that might just preserve their ability to live a full life. Consequently, so does my Dad!! And they are both as the saying goes 'young at heart'.
And that's what I wanted to talk about today - how do we view aging?
I just had coffee with my great mate - Noel Whitticker - and we (as usual) talked, listened and exchanged ideas excitedly. This time about what happens to us as we age.
We challenged the meaning of the phrase 'as we age'. It has a connotation of increasing wrinkles, weakness, memory loss and general deterioration. It's a curse. It's the end of life. Yuck! That concept is wrong! Just because we grow chronologically older doesn't mean we have to physically , mentally and psychologically wither up. How about as we 'mature'? Or as we live longer? Or as we become wiser? Or even youth part 2, 3, 4 or 27! Maybe aging could be viewed as a gift? We are wiser; we have more self confidence; we worry less about what others think; we often have more time.
Think about how we think about the 'aged', let alone how we treat them. We treat them (including speak to them) as morons, simpletons, disabled or in some way slightly mentally handicapped.
People who are older than us usually still have a brain - and remember - they used to be young not so long ago. They told jokes, had fantasies, made business decisions, fell in love, exercised and generally lived just like we do! And what's more most of their brains are still in the same mode - it's just that their bodies look and behave a little differently. they love to be treated as if they are the same age as we are. Just because someone is sixty doesn't mean they have lost their sense of humour - or intelligence.
Noel and I were discussing what we need to know to maintain our youthful bodies or regain them after we have started the slide downhill and the key component was - think young. OK, I know you have heard this before , but how many really do think young? What are your expectations of what you will do and be like as a 'youth part fiver'? Or if you are already into youth part five, are you letting yourself slide into the morass of inactivity, frailness and forgetfulness - because it's not acceptable for oldies to exercise, play, sing, laugh, have relationships, make love and tell dirty jokes?
So what can people do? Number one: exercise, exercise and more exercise. Start off gently (after a medical check up) if you are not used to it and build your way up. Walk, swim, do aquarobics, gentle exercise classes (some progressive gyms now have classes for older bodies), ride a stationery bicycle - or a real one, circuit training, home gymnasiums, skip with a rope, use bull workers, walk to the shops, exercise to an exercise video, do yoga. There's a million ways to exercise when you start to think about it. When we exercise, we do what our body is desperate for. We move it; we give it blood and oxygen; we lubricate the joints; we exercise the mind; we burn off stress; we improve coordination; we improve self image and self esteem; we strengthen and improve flexibility and we usually have fun! We won't be frightened of falling over. We'll be more independent, less of a burden on friends and rels. Our sex lives improve. (Did I say sex? And old age in the same breath?! Yes, it's true, oldies still have hormones! They still need to 'do it'! It's great , not disgusting!)
Just because we grow 'old', doesn't mean we are too frail to exercise. Usually we become old and frail BECAUSE we don't exercise. Please, please, please build up your heart -lung fitness and your general muscle strength. Start now, no matter what your age and be amazed at how you start living again.
And then there was equal first - attitude. If you think old you gonna act old, and be old. How do you perceive yourself? What do you tell yourself about what you should and shouldn't do as someone your age? I'm forty and was pushed around IN the supermarket trolley last week - and boy! was it fun! But it's not something you would expect from a forty year old woman. So who cares? I'm going to enjoy my life. It's the risk you don't take that you regret - never the one you did.
Or go help really 'old' people. I love it when I see 70 years olds heading off the do meals on wheels for the -as they call them;- 'oldies'!
Two. At last we have time to do things we always wanted to. The children have gone so there is no need to give up our lives to drive them to sport or parties. So there's time to learn and grow. Go to adult education or community classes; or read - teach yourself something; or learn a new skill; build something; teach others something you know well; challenge yourself mentally. This is another main trap youth part fivers fall into. They stop using their brains. And it withers away. Memory adn concentration go as does alertness and mental agility. I don't care if you challenge yourself with crosswords, mindgames, puzzles, quizzes, reading, chess. Anything that makes your brain work in a different way. Play a musical instrument. Learn a new sport. Join a bridge club. Play bowls. Exercise and use your brain.
Three. Meditate! Make a specific time for relaxation each day. In deeply relaxed states, our bodies heal themselves of all sort of disease processes; and burn off accumulated stress. It recharges our batteries and fills us with energy and vitality. It brings to us a serenity and acceptance of life and others that enables us to live more peacefully and harmoniously. It takes more to upset us and we handle crises more effectively. Other than that, it doesn't do much!
Four. Stay social! Keep friends and family around you - they are vital for youe health and wellness. They keep you in touch with reality. Join clubs; do volunteer work; play sport; be a rent a 'granny or grandpa'; make an effort ot stay in touch with others no matter how busy they are; ask people over for afternoon tea or meals; join community groups; contribute in some way to others happiness; do anything that keeps you in touch (literally and metaphorically) with others. We need it.
It seems to me that a lot of people start off life with some good lifestyle habits - they watch what they eat; they exercise;they meditate; balance social and work life; seek beneficial relationships and stimulate their minds. Then they get busy. And have children. And out the door go all those wellness habits! Cos who has time to think of themselves between raising children and supporting families? BIG MISTAKE!
For 20 years , from the time children are born to the time they leave home (with luck?!), people ignore their own needs - especially their wellness needs and suddenly, they are 'old' physically and mentally at 45. Don't do it to yourself!
Start now. Don't just plan financially for your youth part five - plan to have a body and mind that will do what you want them to do when you finally have time and money to do what you always wanted to do. Noel is a financial whiz who understands the importance of planning in both areas so we can really have - and just as importantly , enjoy - what we want.
From age 45 years onwards, set goals of what you want to be like . Each year, doesn't matter what your age is, write down what you want to be like physically and mentally in twelve months. Be specific. Describe how you want to look and feel. (flabby or firm?) How excited do you want to be about life? What do you want your brain and mental capacities to be like? What social life do you want to have? What about relationships/ love and sex? (Go watch the movie 'Grumpy Old Men' - it's fantastic! And bundles up everything I have talked about in this article.) Write down as much detail as you can and then decide what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Thinking this way is the norm for young people. I wish. Anyway, it's a little more common in younger people than in youth part fivers. Why is it so different for old folks? All their lives people complain they don't have enough time to do what they want to do; and when they finally have the time, they don't use it cos they are too old and infirm!
I say 'prepare for youth - part five', if you are not there. And if you are there - start planning for youth - part 6 - or regain some of youth part five!
Doesn't that excite you? Start off gradually and gently. It takes time to develop your physical flexibility and strength again. It's never too late. Muscles can always be stretched and strengthened; joints can be made more flexible; coordination can be improved and so can stamina. Physiologically, there's nothing to stop older bodies toning up like younger bodies.
There's so much to do, see, learn, experience, feel, and build that one lifetime isn't enough. So cram what you can into this one - and as you go through life exercising, stimulated , busy and excited, you'll turn around one day and suddenly realise you are 85 years young , full of energy and vitality, have a great body and not only love life, but live it out loud!
It's up to you - will aging be a gift? Or a curse?