At what age do we begin to age? Well that’s a difficult one to answer because ageing is linked to the habits that we’ve had in the course of our lives (yup, including those boozy student days).
In this feature we look at when you start ageing, how age is viewed in different cultures, and we give you some top tips on how ageing mindfully really can make you happier, healthier and most importantly, feel alive.
Most of us are scared of just hearing the words "getting old." Thoughts of hip replacements and dodgy retirement homes landing in our brain, and in reality we’re ageing much sooner than retirement age. According to Dr Frauke Neuser, Senior Director Scientific Communications at Procter & Gamble, the first process to decline is natural antioxidant production, and that happens in your 20s or even earlier (eek)! "We always thought that you just need to moisturise and use sunscreen in your 20s, but data shows that skin is already susceptible to oxidative stressors and damage.” Accordingly, the best time to start using anti ageing products with antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea extract, and fruit acids is right around Uni graduation!
That doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from our 20s. We’re more savvy than we’ve ever been and know that being in good physical condition along with looking after our mental health will help our quality of life.
Photo by Estudio Lelle
Aside from what we know, the evolution of medicine has allowed us to accomplish much more too. Antibiotics, vaccines, technology and research have all played their part in extending our lives, sometimes to the detriment of the quality of our life. And that’s where ageing with intent comes in.
Getting older is a natural process in which the important thing is not so much how old we can be, but the quality of life we have. That is why ageing mindfully, in addition to increasing our life expectancy, also gives us the possibility to get the most out of growing older.
“In youth we learn; in age we understand”
~Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach, writer.
How old age is perceived is not the same for everyone or everywhere. In the West the image of youth is worshiped and age is penalised, while in the East, getting older is synonymous with getting stronger and wiser. How we care for and treat our elderly loved ones can vary depending on the culture we grew up in. This differs in the way we treat our elders and whether we respect their life experience or see it as a burden.
In Japan, for example, the elders are considered the pillar of society, and they demonstrate this with concrete actions, such as the celebration of Keiro No Hi (the Respect for the Aged Day).
China has laws that promote care and respect the elderly, and in India the youngest are used to asking the opinion and approval of the more experienced before making decisions.
The question is: Why in the West is the image of age so different? Industrial development, capitalism, the cult of beauty in the media, the pace imposed by new technologies, the idea of triumph…they’ve all influenced this.
Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida at 64, renowned fashion designer Vera Wang didn’t design her first dress til she was 40 and Morgan Freeman won his first Oscar at 67. ‘Tis never too late dear reader!
THE BENEFITS OF MATURITY
According to BUPA, over 11 million working days are lost each year because of work-related stress, which contributes to conditions such as anxiety or depression. And nearly half a million people of working age in the UK have work-related stress at a level that makes them feel ill.
However, when hitting 60 a lot of those responsibilities can disappear; the children have grown up (and the grandchildren have arrived, who require less looking after). The work goals have already been reached and as a result of the accumulation of lived experiences, the brain has learned to better cope with negative situations and learned to relativise (in theory anyway).
This naturally produces a change of priorities. Leisure and free time become more important and there is less need to achieve material goals. Focus changes to developing wellbeing and cultivating a state of happiness and satisfaction.
MENOPAUSE AND AGEING
Although menopause brings with it symptoms that are not so pleasant, and even sometimes traumatic for women, it’s certainly not game over. Why is suddenly everyone talking about the menopause openly rather than sweeping it under the carpet? Lest we forget Kristin Scott Thomas’s epic speech on Fleabag where she made a memorable monologue about what it is to be a woman - and why the menopause is actually "wonderful."
Reframing the menopause as a new beginning, the ideal moment to put all our energy into ourselves and start a new phase. But also talk about it. More celebs are talking about the taboo effects such as incontinence and crippling anxiety, educating the rest of us on something that is about so much more than ovaries shutting up shop.
Eating well is obviously near the top of the list for women in peri-menopause and menopause. Increasing our intake of oily fish, rich in Omega 3 is an easy win.
It’s super tasty and really easy to make quick meals like adding tuna or anchovies to spaghetti and garlic. Up intake of fruits and vegetables with vitamins A, C and D and antioxidants, as well as vegetables with a high estrogen content like flax seeds, peaches and berries.
In the menopause, it’s important to work out regularly, not forgetting those exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor (you can do them while on a Zoom call, no one can tell).
Whatever your age or gender, being outside has been proven to have tons of health benefits. According to a study at the Peninsula College of Medicine. Dr. Michael Depledge, senior author explains, “Our research adds significant weight to the case for spending more time in the natural environment as members of the public and their clinicians fight to counteract the negative outcomes of modern living, such as obesity and depression.”
Being outside more and getting sunshine, even in the winter, is definitely one to add to the tick-list of things to do for your wellbeing. Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin, associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused (justifies the case for more holidays in warmer climes).
WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO TO BE HAPPY AND HEALTHY?
Feeling useful is pretty high on the list for happiness as we age. Put simply, people age better if they have a purpose in life.
“We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we’re not glowing, and we’re not hot, that we don’t matter. I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don’t matter. I know that only by owning who and what you are can you start to step into the fullness of life. Every year should be teaching us all something valuable. Whether you get the lesson is really up to you.”
Learning a new language, volunteering, creating a blog, becoming an influencer, undertaking those trips we always dreamed of - all these can help too. Even starting that project we’ve never dared to in the past! Yoga, meditation, coaching and even therapy are also fantastic tools that promote emotional health. The opposite to all of this is a sedentary lifestyle and apathy - and you don’t really see a lot of happy, apathetic people. The upshot is, the buck stops with us.