Aging Well Means Embracing Change
Why not find the new version of you?
Posted December 29, 2018
"Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been." —David Bowie
From behind her, you can’t tell. You’re standing in the produce aisle and see a gal in leggings. Her high ponytail waves like a flag as she moves between the apples and the bananas. Then she turns around, and suddenly you realize the face doesn’t match. While she is not unattractive, it’s as if she tried hard to look like a 30-year old when her face looks more like a tired 58 being stretched to new limits by a scrunchy. The overly-dark hair suddenly looks contrived, as if she wanted to freeze her looks in time but it just wasn’t possible.
It’s kind of sad to see someone desperately clinging to the last remnants of their youth. Celebrities who look best as they age are the ones who appear comfortable in their own skin, like Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren. Post-50 heartthrob George Clooney has spoken about the importance of embracing aging. “I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t try to look younger. You just have to try to look the best you can at the age you are,” he said in a recent interview. The salt-and-pepper hair and the deepening lines on his face are downright mesmerizing on him. But hell — men can do that, right? How about women? As we begin the new year, let’s look at not only how we age, but also why change can be good as we experience each birthday. And yes. It sucks that women have more elements to pay attention to than men.
Fitness is about more than achieving a size 4 …
First of all, once we’re past 50 most of us don’t work out for the same reasons we did when we were younger. It’s no longer about dropping that extra 25 pounds to get into a body-con dress, although it would be nice. It’s usually about energy, flexibility and balance. We begin to think about older age — when people fall, break hips, start walking and standing differently. And while we understand the importance of cardio, strength training becomes an imperative. Why? Depressing as it is, as early as our 30s we naturally start to lose muscle mass, adding up to 5 percent per decade. After age 45, experts say we lose 1 percent every year. Strength and resistance training to build muscle not only counters that — it can also help you stay strong and independent as you age.
Think about how you used to “hop” up a set of stairs when you were younger. Or how you could get off the floor from a cross-legged position without grabbing on to something for help. Can you still balance standing up when pulling up your leggings or your jeans? Small abilities begin to disappear and many of us just accept them. It pretty much comes down to what you’re willing to let go of.
Life piles up …
Studies have shown that work or family-related stress can cause aging on a cellular level — even causing you to age faster. Whether it’s sleepless nights (dark circles), skin dehydration or hair loss, it has its effects on us physically as well as mentally. The average medical doctor does not advise us on how to counteract these signs of aging, as their main concern is addressing bad knees, painful hip conditions or acid reflux. But many of us past age 50 are now turning to functional medicine doctors (wellness physicians), who, although not covered much by insurance at this point, can become the detectives we need to get to the bottom of all this. They order up complex blood tests that reveal how we lack a lot of basic nutrients our bodies relied on when we were younger — things like digestive enzymes, thyroid health, adrenal deficiencies, and even testosterone, progesterone and estrogen levels that are no longer aiding us in things like deep sleep, skin health, and mental acuity. I think it’s interesting how insurance will pay for a new shoulder or hip but won’t address other vital things we need as our bodies age. You’d think their interest would be in looking for ways to keep us well.
As for food intake, we simply don’t need as many calories as we used to. While I ADORE bread (crusty warm sourdough dripping with butter is a favorite), I know I can no longer eat it with any regularity. Besides being bad for me, sugary stuff wreaks havoc with whatever waistline remains, and fatty things offer up only a momentary delight while adhering to my hips. It sucks. But it’s important to think about everything we eat as a form of medication. It either helps our bodies age well or it doesn’t. To find out if what you eat is contributing to difficulty with weight loss or mood swings, get to an allergist or dietician to see what your body reacts to. You may never have known how the foods you eat have become barriers to all kind of things you’re trying to achieve.
How we see ourselves …
That woman in the grocery store I used as an example may not be able to move on, stuck looking back at the past and constantly trying to recreate it. She may even see that younger self in the mirror and imagine others see it too. It’s just as hard for women to let go of their younger-self looks as it is for men to understand they look slimmer when they no longer tuck in their shirts. Waist lines disappear, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still dress to show off other assets or at least minimize the ones no longer serving us. My mind rivets to Katherine Hepburn, and how, as she aged, she began adopting her signature high collars, bat-wing dresses, and sleek trousers, looking ten times more chic than female movie stars who showed off wrinkled cleavage. To get tips on how to dress your “new” body, find a wardrobe consultant or ask for help at a higher-end department store, where personal shoppers can often lead you to looks you thought you’d never consider. Use their expertise and pick their brains even if you use their advice for looking for more budget-friendly clothing.
Smoke and mirrors …
This is one of my favorite topics, because true beauty is indeed more than skin deep. It also reflects how you feel about yourself. As for makeup, there are tasteful ways to enhance what we’ve got without looking like we’re trying too hard. While they say less is more with makeup, that doesn’t mean cosmetics can’t “make up” for a few things. You can achieve a dewier look with a good moisturizer and a makeup counter person to guide you through the bevy of products available to fill in fine lines, add color and tone, and play up your beautiful eyes without going Cleopatra. And don’t forget those eyebrows — the elements that shape your face. As we age, they fade, turn grey, and we often lose the ends of them, like socks that disappear in the dryer and never show up again. Even younger women have come to value the services of a brow expert, using waxing, micro-blading and dying techniques to bring back or create a beautiful brow shape. Not sure about you, but I’m not into looking like a brow-less Renaissance woman.
Hair loss doesn’t have to mean seeing your scalp in the light of day. There are dozens of keratin fiber powder products you can shake on and rub in to make you look as if you have twice the amount of hair. It’s absolutely magical, and you feel as if you’ve just discovered a deep, dark secret. In fact, it makes me want to run around and shake it on other women’s heads like fairy dust.
As for how you wear your hair, change can be fun. I loved having shoulder length hair when I was younger, but I found my fine hair simply didn’t do well with it. So I began wearing it shorter and shorter until I found a look I liked. If it’s your husband browbeating you into keeping your hair long, just remind him of what he looked like when he was younger and ask him if he can go backward. Then inform him that change can mean more confidence and confidence can be downright sexy.
In my 50s I experimented with hair highlights and lowlights, then dyed my medium brown hair darker. It worked for a while. In my 60s, however, my aging face did not play well with the dark hair. I noticed the most grey was coming in around my forehead and temples and I hated seeing that line of demarcation that made me run to my hair person to get the color re-infused. So I started looking at different shades of platinum, pulling up online photos of short-haired blond beauties. I didn’t want to go straight gray or even senior silver. I wanted a color that complimented my skin tone. So, to the shock of my my friends, I went to a light blond platinum. My husband now delights in saying that he has been married to two different women with the same face. It’s hilarious. Sometimes you have to take a leap that feels good to you and only you. Don’t let friends, your spouse or your family scare you into staying the same. Instead, show them the NEW you — that wild thing that has resided inside they had no clue about. (By the way, if you go this route, ask your hair person to aim you away from the mirror as this long process of going from dark to light takes place. Your hair looks like the color of a compost heap until he or she gets it to the right color. It’s frightening.)
Getting wiser as well as more curious with age …
Staying curious means looking into trying something different. Routine can create ruts. Plus, learning something new can give you confidence. I recently took on a freelance writing account that was perfect for my skill set except for one thing. I was required to learn some basic HTML coding in order to post it to the company’s “bot,” where it would display online. As a Boomer who remembers a world with no computers, I was terrified. But I didn’t let the fear control me. I Googled article after article for dummies like me and eventually I was able to not only start and end paragraphs, but add bolding, italics, bullet points and numbering. Now I breeze through complex editing jobs of Wall Street financial news early each morning with the greatest of ease and can even see where my errors are when I post. This old dog learned a new trick. I’ve also gotten into occasionally traveling alone when my spouse doesn’t have the yen to wander. Going solo can help you learn a s-load about yourself and how you may have relied on others most of your life. I highly recommend it.
One study showed that older adults who took up a new activity for three months showed considerable improvements in memory compared with those who only engaged in familiar activities. This naturally leads to positive thoughts, which add to your coping skills, aids your immune system and may even lengthen your life. A study of nearly 100,000 women over 50 found that optimists had a 14 percent lower risk of death in the study follow-up and were 30 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease than their pessimistic peers. Another study found that even in people with heart disease, those who stayed positive were 58 percent more likely to survive an additional five years.
Sleep is the magic elixir …
I used to love falling asleep. As I aged, however, I found it harder and harder to fall asleep when I wanted to, stay asleep, and have deep sleep for very long. Once my doc balanced my gut levels and found me to be severely lacking in some hormones, I started taking bio-identical versions. Progesterone in combination with the other supplements I take absolutely knocks me out every night. Honest to God, I sleep in technicolor. My dreams are sometimes more fun than my waking moments, plummeting me into parts of my past or creating a whole new movie. This was after 20+ years of night sweats and bathroom trips in the middle of the night. It’s a strange thing now, after all those years, to know when I go to bed, I WILL sleep and I will sleep well.
Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, counts sleep as one of the essentials of aging gracefully. “Don’t underestimate the power of sleep on your skin, hair, energy, balance, and mood,” she tells Parade Magazine. She stresses that eight hours and no less should be the goal. The French average nine hours of sleep a night. Move over Catherine Deneuve…
The point of all this is that aging well takes vigilance, commitment, and a spirit that looks for constant renewal — physically, intellectually, on the surface and in our guts. None of us will get out of this alive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of this incredible life we’ve been given. Staying healthy means being there for not only ourselves but also our loved ones. I envy those of you with grandchildren and hope that fate awaits me. In the meantime, I intend to stay strong enough and healthy enough to enjoy whoever they are someday and try to look good in the meantime.