I was excited to get the recent “Longevity Issue” of Time Magazine —an entire issue devoted to the joy of longevity, how great! And then I read the cover article: “The Alzheimer’s Pill: A radical new drug that could change old age.” My heart sank. My excitement vanished. Once again, getting older was automatically associated with decline and dementia.
Don’t misunderstand me. For those suffering with Alzheimer’s, I am thrilled that the medical community continues its earnest resolve to alleviate that suffering and find a cure.
What dismayed me, was the impression so readily embraced by our society, our media, and just about everyone, young and old alike, that old age must be a miserable time of decrepitude.
When you actually look at people in their 80s, 90s and beyond, there are an astonishing number who are doing very well. Who are thriving! For example, Iris Apfel, at 93, is a fashion world icon. She wears her signature bracelets from wrist to elbow; her outfits are a riot of bright colors, and her glasses are super-sized with black frames. Then there is Carmen Dell’Orefice. At age 83, with her high cheekbones and distinctive silver-white hair, she is the world’s oldest super-model. Yes, you read that correctly. Super-model, not just “model.”
At 82, Lynn Dell owns the Manhattan Off Broadway Boutique, catering to women who refuse to join the invisible brigade of the old and useless. She says, “We are all living longer. We are enjoying our lives. We have a sense that I can do what I want now. I can make a statement now.”
Amazing women, all three, and they are only a few examples of the many, many more alive and kicking in our communities. What’s terrific, is that science is showing us increasingly how these happy, healthy older individuals are navigating their decades with such grace. In a word, it’s attitude. Yes, diet and exercise are important. But more than anything, more than your genes or your status in life, how you think and what you feel are what determine your ability to enjoy a happy, healthy, long life.
Appreciation is the key. The one trait centenarians all over the globe share, is a great appreciation for the ordinary experiences of life. They differ in all other regards: what they eat, how they exercise (or don’t), their living arrangements, their daily activities. Most have nothing in common but their enormous appreciation.
Appreciation, finding something to value in whatever is around you at the moment, whether it’s the taste of your coffee or the smile on a child’s face or the colors of dawn at the break of day, appreciation is what settles your heart rate, bolsters your immune system and eases your mind.
When you appreciate something, you cannot help but feel grateful for it–and people who are grateful live longer and healthier. Appreciation and gratitude are the natural precursors to happiness—and people who are happy live longer and healthier. When you’re happy, you cannot help but be hopeful and confident about your future, you become optimistic—and people who are optimistic live longer and healthier. All facts which are supported by scientific research.
Even what you think about getting older impacts your long-term health. Recent research shows that positive beliefs about aging actually protect against Alzheimer’s. How do you get there? Simply put, you shift your focus from what you can’t do, don’t have and are not, to what you can do, do have, and are. A wonderful example of such a shift in focus is
Marge Champion, world-renowned dancer on the Broadway stage and in movies, often with her longtime husband and partner, Gower Champion. A documentary was made in 2010 of Marge at age 90, dancing with her then dancing partner, Donald Sadler, also 90. Since they worked together in “Folies,” the last time “Folies” was on Broadway in 2001, Donald and Marge met twice a week to rehearse and choreograph original work.
Here’s what Marge says about aging: “I think it’s kind of fun to see myself as an old lady . . . All this stuff that’s floating around the universe about being young. In this society, old, or even middle-aged, are dirty words. And everybody wants to live eternally young. Well, I gotta tell you, they’re fighting the wrong cause. They’re gonna get old and they might as well enjoy it . . .
I know I had to learn a very, very important lesson, and that was to accept every decade for what it gives you, not for what it takes away. And you can adjust! So you can’t do falls or lifts, but you can still move with grace.”
“Accept every decade for what it gives you, not for what it takes away,” wise words indeed. The more you look for what your decades give you, for what you can appreciate, here now, the more likely you are to live a happy, healthy life, throughout your years.
Get your attitude in gear, refuse to live the assumption that old age must be miserable, and have yourself a simply fabulous life.
Dr. Noelle Nelson
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