By Robin Bush, ISR Community Education Specialist
Two of our community members, both 81, lead very different lives. Martha spends days remembering what life used to be like in years gone by, struggling with many physical ailments, and rarely leaving home or talking with anyone. She sits by the window, wondering, “What’s next?”. Patricia has just signed up for her first seated yoga class and shares tea on Zoom with a friend every afternoon to be sure they are both safe and well. She has just adopted a kitten whose antics keep her laughing, and each morning Petra paints cards that say, “I’m thinking of you” and donates them to Meals on Wheels. As a stroke survivor, no day is easy, but at the end of each day, she feels she’s contributed to others, lived a full day, and looks forward to tomorrow.
We each experience aging differently, but the course of our aging process is deeply connected to what we believe. If we believe aging is a process of diminishing, then our bodies are more likely to falter. On the other hand, if we believe aging is a time of deep connection, sharing, contribution, and purpose, that mindset can produce dramatic and positive effects on our health and well-being.
Even having the most positive attitude means we must still be prepared for, and expect, challenges and setbacks. The cycle of setbacks then growth is a pattern that repeats throughout the natural world as it does in our lives. However, how we heal from setbacks is related much more to our health and well-being than to our biological age when a setback occurs. Healthy ecosystems manage challenges and recover more quickly than those stressed by drought, ravaged by storms, or imbalanced by human actions. Think of your body and mind as your ecosystem. If you exercise, eat and sleep well, find ways to reduce stress, build your friendships, and seek purpose, you will be much more resilient and better able to manage and recover when inevitable challenges occur. You will enjoy others and they will connect with you.
Some of us spend our later years mourning all we have lost, while others celebrate all that still remains possible. Finding ways to live what can be, rather than what can’t be, will positively impact our aging process. It’s not easy to stop negative thoughts, or change our less-positive outlooks, but learning to recognize when they occur and saying to yourself, “That kind of thinking is not good for me,” and choosing to do something at that moment that gives you a more positive and purposeful feeling, is an excellent place to start. Doing it once or twice will not change your mindset, but do it every day, and it will become a pattern that transforms your life for the better.
Curiosity, purpose, staying connected, sharing beauty, and loving others may do more than almost anything else to keep us healthy. Our hearts and minds respond, our immune system strengthens, and we lose our fear of what‘s to come. Where to begin? Start by saying yes whenever you can. Say yes to new things; say yes to those things that bring you closer to someone else; embrace today, for there isn’t a moment to waste. Embrace each beautiful human moment you have and love those around you. Do that, and you’ll know you are aging successfully.