You probably have that one person in your family, or maybe more than one, whose signature response to anyone who forgets something, stumbles over that curb that wasn’t there yesterday, or groans a little when they stand up after sitting for some time is, “It’s hell getting’ old, ain’t it?”
Well if those were inevitable consequences of the passing of time, getting old would at some point become hell. And for a lot of people it does.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Of course, being in an organic body with moving parts, it is natural that we will gradually lose some physical function over time. But there are several problems in unnecessarily conflating age with a decline in physical ability.
Growing old is not your fault, but how you grow old is your responsibility.
The belief system that has been perpetuated for centuries encourages abdication of this responsibility. It suggests that we don’t actually own our bodies, we don’t control our fitness, and we don’t have any means of designing our lives to slow the aging process. Accepting the idea that getting old equates to a kind of hell turns us into victims of circumstance, blindly becoming complacent as our bodies incrementally deteriorate.
That was never entirely true, but for most people living centuries or even decades ago it was truer than it is true for us today.
With advances in technology and healthcare, greater access to good nutrition, and improved hygiene, we have the tools to stay younger longer if we make the commitment to do so.
Yes our bodies do change over time, but how they change is determined by how we fill the time we’re given.
Many people who have set themselves against the aging process have a mantra that goes something like this, “Eat clean, stay active.” And certainly doing those two things has some effect. But there are three “secret weapons” that can take that mantra to a whole new level of lifelong fitness.
Secret Weapon #1 – Your Thoughts
One of the reasons that the insidious belief in the inevitability of physical deterioration is so destructive is because behavior always follows our expectations for results. So if you expect getting old to be hell then you are likely to behave in such a way to ensure that getting old is, indeed, a kind of hell.
That goes far beyond whether or not you are motivated to eat clean and stay active. In fact, the threat of “hell” might be exactly why you do those things. But you might also be more prone to just pushing through pain that could, and should, be corrected, or accepting a decline in ability that could be reversed because you believe it is simply age-related. Or you might consign yourself to moving less, or moving more cautiously because you believe “at your age” you need to be more careful.
Using the power of your thoughts to create positive expectations about your physical performance not only increases the likelihood that your behaviors will support longevity and fitness, but visualizing yourself doing things that you want to do, even if your body really cannot do them now, actually causes a firing sequence in the muscles and nerves involved, moving your body a little closer to being able to perform those movements in the future.
Secret Weapon #2 – Your Community
So many studies about longevity, mental health, and emotional health point to the importance of socialization. Evidence points to the contributing role of isolation in addictions to everything from drugs and alcohol to food and shopping. Alan Deutschman, in his book Change or Die, talks about the importance of community and culture to successfully navigating radical life changes in this article.
Enrolling your friends, neighbors, and family in your anti-aging campaign is not only good for you, it’s good for them too. Inviting others to walk, bike, play a sport, take dancing lessons, try a new yoga class, or take a healthy cooking class makes it more enjoyable, and more likely to be repeated.
Secret Weapon #3 – Your Nervous System
This is the master of all secret weapons because everything you do, think, say, or feel becomes part of this system, and this system ultimately decides how you will think, how you will feel, and how you will move. The more we’ve learned about neuroplasticity and neurogenesis – the ability of the brain to change and develop – the more we understand that much of the aging we assumed was inevitable and just a matter of time is really linked to neurological health and performance.
One reason is that, over time, the way you normally think and move becomes like a river carving a deeper and deeper channel. Neural pathways that you use repeatedly become ingrained. Which means the way you think and move becomes your preferred way to think and move. And eventually trying to change the way you think and move becomes like trying to divert a deep river into a new channel.
Many of the injuries, aches, and pains we associate with age are really due to repetitive movements because the way we do every little thing in our day is “burned in” to our nervous system. This can eventually wear out the body parts required to repeat that movement. You can break out of that burnout pattern by learning new skills and moving in new ways.
Take advantage of “safe challenges” like trying new exercises, classes or learning new skills under the guidance of a qualified movement professional.
The most effective way to engage your neurological system is what we call “neuro-reprogramming through movement” which uses small, controlled movements to active and awaken the nervous system. Paying attention to how you do things is important to improve whatever your activity of choice is.
Our understanding of biological, neurological, and physiological adaptation potential evolves year after year. But if our day-to-day lifestyle is being crippled by outdated, false, and damaging beliefs and patterns we are doomed to repeat the very real issues of the past. These three “secret weapons” can release you from that fate and keep you younger and healthier at any age.