Mind & Spirit

Aging gracefully

By: Vanessa Milne

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

Aging gracefully

By: Vanessa Milne

Every anti-aging discovery seems more promising than the last. Diets and cosmetic surgery can almost completely stop the outward signs of getting old. Human growth hormone appears to reverse the loss of lean muscle mass, giving you a truly youthful body. Mice fed a macrobiotic diet live up to one-third longer. But for every new discovery, there seems to be one that didn't live up to its promises.

Separating the science from the hype is aging expert Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Eight weeks to Optimum Health, Healthy Living, and over a dozen other books. In his latest book, Healthy Aging, he offers an explanation of the newest theories on why we age, including discoveries at the cellular level, but leaves us with the unfortunate conclusion that there are no anti-aging products or pills that really do us much benefit, and there are unlikely to be any in the near future.

What we can expect to see in the future of anti-aging
Instead, Dr. Weil suggests aiming for the realistic goal of trying to increase the quality of our later years through preventative medicine and common-sense lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, reducing stress and following a simple diet. (In addition, he recommends you use his anti-inflammatory diet, which is explained in the book.)

As a doctor who has studied communities with long life expectancies, Dr. Weil offers an educated look at the cultural influences to longevity. These include practical differences, such as the fact that most of these communities require moderate physical labour through their lives and include simple diets with anti-inflammatory aspects. But he also talks about the mental and social aspects. The Okinawans, in Japan, have one of the world's highest life expectancies. They include their old in their community -- complete with a celebration for those who have reached 97 ("second childhood"), and there are fights between siblings over who gets to care for their elderly parents.

In defense of aging
Speaking not as a doctor but as a 61-year-old man, Dr. Weil provides a valiant defence of aging, decrying our society's focus on the young and distaste for the old. He dismantles the argument of youth's superiority, pointing out that he and many others are glad to exchange the worry and superficiality of youth for the depth and calming influence of experience. In addition, Dr. Weil points out, accepting aging allows you to reap its intangible benefits, like appreciating your mortality, and thinking about the time remaining in your life. And he encourages you to do the same.

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Page 1 of 2 – Learn what four things you can do to get comfortable with the idea of aging on page 2.

"The first step toward aging gracefully is to look at the process squarely and understand it for what it is," he writes. The sooner we can stop our denial, he argues, the sooner we can focus on the important thing – not seeming younger, or looking younger, but creating habits which will allow us to be healthy for as many of our senior years as possible. Clarify your feelings towards aging, and encourage acceptance of it with these exercises:

1. Write an ethical will.
This is "an ongoing record of the lessons you learn, the wisdom you gain, and the values you hold." It will help you focus on the positive aspects of aging.

2. Be aware that people selling turn-back-time products and cosmetic surgery are making money. Remain critical of the media's messages. Try to think about the positive connotations of aging -- Dr. Weil mentions thinking about the value of old wine, trees and antiques as starting points to thinking about being old in a different way.

3. Write a list of "people in your life in whose company you feel more alive, happy and optimistic." Make an active effort to spend more time with these people. It will provide support that will strengthen your spiritual well-being and your resistance to depression and provide the support you will need in old age.

4. Use your acceptance of aging to avoid common health pitfalls. Get appropriate screening, refrain from inappropriate physical activity and recognize that you should be slowing down. Reevaluate your workload, get appropriate physical activity and find strategies to deal with stress.

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Page 2 of 2 – Discover why common-sense lifestyle habits are your best bet against the signs of premature aging on page 1.

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Mind & Spirit

Aging gracefully