People fret all the time about getting old. They are frightened about losing their hair; they are afraid about losing touch with the times. For people caught up chasing eternal youth, there is no greater fear than withering into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon.
But let’s face it. There’s no denying it. Age is inevitable. Like an infant, we’ll end our lives full circle. But while our closing scene may darken, sans eyes and teeth, there is no reason that the decades before that can’t be lived to the fullest. So even with the current average life expectancy of 66 years (80 if you’re lucky and living out of poverty), there is plenty of time to forget self pity and instead live to be one damn cool old person.
This is my motivation for writing this post. Age is a state of mind and a creature of habit. There are plenty of ways to escape senile oblivion and love your life well into your 80s, 90s, or whenever your curtains finally close. Here’s a few.
- Be curious. The most inspiring and exciting elderly people I know have one undeniable trait. They are insatiably curious. They are intrigued by the world around them, and they have never stopped trying to figure out how it works. They are eager to try new things, and they are reflective about their knowledge. While Socrates maintains that a wise man knows that he knows nothing, the most lively old people I know are those who know nothing, and learn anyways.
- Converse. Find yourself someone that you can have a conversation with. You know that it is love when you are old and wrinkled, you can’t dance or move an inch, but you can sit with them for hours and talk about the world. You are as old as the spark of your conversation. Find people in your life that are excited by ideas. Share your philosophies. Let your conversations be immortal, while your flesh is not.
- Learn a new language every decade. Go to the grave speaking eight or more languages. I figure, it takes 10 years to really learn a new language, considering you got to spend a few years getting the grammar and the basics, and then a few more years in the country talking with native speakers. But if you calculate that you’re living for at least 70-80 years, you could easily die with quite a few languages under your belt, not to mention all that extra travel abroad. In this day and age, it’s easier and cheaper to learn a language than ever before. Dive right in — be it your second, third, or eighth new language, you can realistically master another one in ten years or less.
- Move (Part 1). For the love of God, exercise. I know, you’ve heard it all before, but really, even just 20-30 minutes a couple days a week will make you feel younger and more energetic. Plus you’ll probably eat healthier and look better, too. Don’t think the only way to work out is to sweat for hours in a gym. Get out a map and explore your neighborhood on foot or bike. Go for runches (runs during lunch). If you’re not down with a solitary jog, join a walking club or take dance lessons. But above all, don’t spend your life wishing the bum imprint on your computer chair were bigger.
- Cut down/cut out meat. Listen to some experts. Eating heaps of meat is unhealthy on plenty counts: it hurts your wallet, your environment, your water, your air, your heart, your blood pressure, and many other things near & dear. This might seem like a PE class revivial, but when the most frequent causes of death in the developed world are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it’s worth taking a moment to evaluate what you shovel into your mouth everyday. If dietary choice alone can save you from the top five killers, do something about it!
- Move (Part 2). Change locations. Often. This can take several forms, but the point is that new habits spark thoughts and keep your brain alert. Walk on the opposite side of the street than you usually do. Shift your desk to look out a different window. Think about getting another apartment or moving to a different city or country. As a recent college grad, I pledge to the fact that the more you move your home, the more streamlined you’ll become. Clutter weighs you down — both mentally and physically. Pack your life into a few boxes, but keep your memory rich and full.
- Expand your comfort zone. While this point has been alluded to above, it bears repeating. People seem “old” when they are closed to new ideas and challenges; they become stubborn and stagnate in tired habits. My grandfather, now in his eighties, decided to build a solar collector on his roof and an internal wireless network in his home. These are both pretty complex and new technologies, which can be intimidating, especially if you’re not born with a laptop in your hand. But by taking on these projects, my grandfather taught me to invite the unknown, to embrace what is intimidating and to do the things that scare me. So maybe if you make that into a habit, you won’t be afraid of getting old and dying anymore.
Image “Sweethearts” by adwriter, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 License.