Healthy Aging From Within

By 2030, the number of people over 65 years old will surpass the number of people under the age of 18 in the United States, resulting in a nation in which older people will be the majority.

Does that mean that most of us will be obsessing over the wrinkles on our faces, bags under our eyes and silver streaks in our hair, or will we finally applaud our biological age? To do the latter, we need to focus less on halting how we change on the outside and pay more attention to healthy aging from the inside.

While age is just a number, each of us wears and views those numbers differently. And although ageism is prevalent in the workplace and marketplace, most advertisements geared towards turning back time target women.

[READ: Mediterranean Eating Habits That Support Healthy Aging.]

Aging and Gender

Though men and women age at the same rate, age is perceived differently for men than women. If a woman has grey hair, she’ll often dye it to keep her looking younger until she’s ready to join the silver sisters, sporting a more natural look.

Yet when a man’s hair turns to a salt and pepper combo, it’s considered distinguished. When women put on a few pounds around the middle, they may squeeze into Spanx or resort to fad diets, cleanses and punitive plans while men might just loosen their belts and wear their shirts out of their pants. Of course this is a generalization, but if you pay attention to the ads for bikini bodies, Botox and skin solutions, women are most often the target.

The Danger of “Anti-Aging” Advertisements

Too many of those ads refer to “anti-aging,” a popular expression, almost as irritating to me as the term “anti-diet.” The word “diet” is defined as “a way of life,” so anti-diet would mean going against your way of life. The reality is that anti-diet is more likely referring to anti-diet culture and the negativity that it sparks, including restrictive, unrealistic and punitive eating patterns.

Similarly, “anti-aging” advertisements and media stories make it seem as if aging is something to fight against instead of to embrace. Perhaps we need to change the language we use replace “seniors” or “the elderly” with something like “seasoned.”

[READ: 6 Strategies for Aging Successfully.]

How Do Americans View Aging?

A survey conducted by OnePoll and Great Lakes Wellness released surprising new data surrounding American views on healthy aging. The survey found that three-fourths of respondents want to spend less time defying aging and more time doing things they love. The same percentage agree that age is not something to fight or fear, but rather an opportunity to live a more fulfilling and emotionally and physically healthy life: 77% of respondents agree there’s a negative bias around aging or the perception of being old, and 61% even avoid sharing their age in fear of being judged.

Furthermore, social media harms more than helps, as it reinforces the perception that age is something to circumvent. In addition to the pressure of playing the comparison game and scrolling aimlessly for hours, the survey found that 77% of respondents felt that social media filters send the wrong message about physical appearances.

Changing How You View Aging

Unfortunately, we’re still a long way off from wrinkles being called laugh lines. In the meantime, the following tips can help you wear your age as a badge of honor instead of carrying it around as a clock counting down.

Be selective about the company you keep

You may not be able to choose your family members, but you can choose who you spend time with. Fill your life with people who love you back and those you mutually admire and inspire. Time is your most precious commodity, so this is especially the time to use it wisely.

Get regular checkups

Like checking the diagnostics on your car or the balance on your IRA, be sure to visit with a healthcare provider at least once a year to prevent medical issues or address any laboratory values that are not within a normal range. Medical problems like diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues and some cancers are preventable and controllable if you pay attention to them early on.

Eat as if your life depended on it

We can’t push pause on our life clocks, but we can help to slow down the process of aging by taking a closer look at what we put in our bodies, not just on them. As with most important things in life, balance is key, so don’t skip meals and don’t avoid entire food groups. Be selective about what you’re reading and who is writing it, and be wary of misinformation. Unqualified “influencers” sometimes use scare tactics over sensibility, so this could be a perfect time to schedule a visit with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Swap retirement for refinement

For some people, retirement is frightening, while for others, it’s an awakening. If you have the luxury of working selectively, perhaps this is the time you can pick and choose who you want to professionally partner with while also considering how many hours you want to dedicate to work.

Exercise for the right reasons

Stop counting the steps you take and calories you burn from exercising and start counting the benefits you earn. Physical activity can help you gain strength, flexibility, balance and vitality.

Set boundaries

Not all of us have the ability to live on our own terms, but as we age, some of us find that we have more flexibility to do things we choose to do. Saying “no” to the demands of others and “yes” to your own interests should be at the top of your to-do list. And don’t confuse ‘selfish’ with ‘self-interest’: Being selfish means you’re the only one on your to-do list and self-interest is when you’re certain you’ll make it to that list regularly.

Take up a new hobby or sport

Take the opportunity to try new activities, like painting and pickle ball. While I currently only pick up my paint brushes occasionally and I’ve only held a racket twice, I’m planning to make my hobby a regular and approach this new sport as fun challenge.

Go back to school or teach a class

If you have retired from a job that others might want to learn, you can teach a class or mentor someone. Your expertise could be invaluable. Or, if you’ve always wanted to learn another language or figure out how to edit a home movie, you can take a class and learn new skills.

Take a staycation

Have you been saving certain chores for “someday.” Well guess what? Some day is today. Start putting those photos in albums, donating those clothes you’ll never wear, give away the dishes you got from your mother’s aunt and scale down. After you’ve cleared up the clutter, try taking a walking tour, going to a local museum or grabbing coffee at a new place with a friend.

Read, write and listen

Whether it’s a juicy novel or a journal, reading and writing can keep your mind sharp. A daily gratitude diary can memorialize your life and help you put your feelings into written words. You might find journaling to be an outlet for privately expressing yourself. Listening to podcasts or audio books also can make learning fun while simultaneously doing other activities like walking (or cleaning out that closet!)

Be confident, be yourself, be authentic

Social media has helped to fuel the fire of self-doubt by constantly showing us other people that look younger, thinner, richer, happier and more vibrant. There’s a good chance that what you’re seeing is a heavily curated version of a person highlighting only their glowing side.

Like it or not, we are all aging — even our kids and our pets. Aging is a privilege, especially when you’re healthy, where we have the ability to grow, evolve and appreciate our lives.

In fact, the best of times could still be ahead of you! The other day I mentioned to an 85-year-old client of mine that I was writing a story on aging, who replied: “Age creeps up on you, and if you’re lucky, you’ll continue to age. The alternative is much worse.”

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