Age Well - How to Get Older Happily
We've found new ways to make sure you keep blossoming into an ever-better you.
"Breath is the power behind all things. Your breath doesn't know how old you are; it doesn't know what you can't do. If I'm feeling puzzled or my mind is telling me that I'm not capable of something, I breathe in and know that good things will happen." — Tao Porchon-Lynch, yoga instructor, age 94
Focus on the Big Picture
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on why it's great to act like a star:
Throughout their lives, stars turn basic elements like hydrogen and helium into richer, heavier elements. When they die, some stars then scatter their remains, full of those enriched ingredients, into gas clouds across the galaxy, where they'll later regroup and become part of a brand-new star system. It's poetic—the next generation of stars benefiting from those that came before. To me, that's a powerful message: Instead of worrying about getting older and whether we're as athletic or pretty or thin as we used to be, we can focus on leading a brilliant life that will be remembered. Make an impact; even if your job doesn't help save lives, you can create art or do something that will bring joy to someone else. You should celebrate each day that you're able to leave a lasting effect. It means that even as you get older, the universe will someday be a little bit better because you've lived in it.
Hey. You there. You, who doesn't tweet. Or update your status. Or pin to any pinboards. Or Instagram photos. It's time to reconsider your relationship with social media. Because whatever has held you back—"It's too confusing," "I'm worried about privacy," "It's a waste of time"—does not hold water. Have a friend walk you through Twitter so you can see firsthand when a tide-turning protest movement is born in 140-character bursts. Follow a few inspiration boards on Pinterest because you will (a) see lots of pretty pictures, (b) curate a whole world of beauty that belongs solely to you, and © find at least one dessert you absolutely need to make this weekend. If you have a child or a grandchild or an especially cute pet, join Instagram—because the smartphone owners who love you are dying to see this adorable creature of yours as much as possible.
Do all these things for all these good reasons and also because if you don't do them, you won't see your cousin's announcement that she's pregnant. You'll have no idea how hilarious your daughter's boyfriend looked in his Halloween costume. You won't know what's going on, and the relevant parties won't be rushing to tell you, because they'll assume you saw it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. That's the way of things now, and you must adapt.
The good news is, you can tailor your social-media adventures to your tastes and comfort level: If you want only your four sisters to see your Instagram feed, set it to private and accept only their requests. If you'd rather read tweets than tweet yourself, you're in good company—millions of users do the same. And if you test-drive Twitter or Facebook or anything else and don't get the appeal, that's fine, too—the point is that you simply must try. You owe it to yourself to remain relevant. You don't want to fall out of touch because you've decided that what is current no longer belongs to you. Social media won't make you young. But letting the world leave you behind is what makes you old.
— Michelle Shih, O director of digital editions and lifestyle
Defy the Odds
"When I was 77, I broke my left elbow and was told it would take ten weeks to heal. I had an important triathlon coming up, so I said to myself, "Oh, no, it won't." I did everything I could to get fit. Five weeks later, my doctor told me I was good to go." — Sister Madonna Buder (a.k.a. The Iron Nun), oldest woman ever to complete an Ironman triathlon, age 82
Make Peace with Your Aging Parents
Jane Gross, author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves and cofounder of the
New York Times blog
The New Old Age, says standing by Mom and Dad as their lives end can change your own
My brother and I cared for my mother for four years before she died, though she and I had always gotten along badly. It wasn't that we fought; we just didn't have much to do with each other. She was an unsentimental person, the kind who'd toss your high school cheerleading uniform before you'd even pulled out of the driveway to go to college.
When you're 17, you think, "I have the meanest mother." But when you're 50-something, you see that unsentimental side as useful. To the extent that you can be really good at being old, at having lots of really bad things happen to you and not become nasty, bitter, and blameful, my mother was amazing. The characteristics I had found so disturbing as a kid served her well in the end. She was very stoic, and it was impossible not to admire that. And that changed things for me—I saw her in a new way.
The truth is that helping your parents in their final years is the last chance you get to do anything about the baggage you have with them. If you don't do it then, you never will. Not that I knew that going in. All I knew was that if I helped her in this way—if I did it well—I would carry with me for the rest of my life all the good feelings that come with having done a very important thing right. And if I did it badly, I would feel guilty for the rest of my life. I'd set it up in my mind as a zero-sum game, which is how a lot of people see this sort of situation. But mine brought a nice, unexpected surprise: the opportunity to reconcile. I had no expectation that we would, but we did. Making that happen was a great gift. And I feel stronger, smarter, and braver as a result.
Don't Assume You've Missed the Boat
How Lisa Kogan got onboard with motherhood at 42.
I was sitting in my obstetrician's office waiting for yet another of the bazillion sonograms that come with a high-risk pregnancy. Having read all the magazines, I browsed my chart: The diabetes was under control, the blood pressure was normal—so far, so good. And then I turned the page. There it was, one word scrawled in ruby red Sharpie: "elderly."
I'd never thought of myself as old before. I did not watch The McLoughlin Group. I did not go on endlessly about how I could have bought an 18-room apartment for $12,000 in 1964. But I was 42, and in maternity circles, that ain't pretty. I spent the rest of the pregnancy imagining my daughter getting her ears pierced as I got my hip replaced, my daughter getting a diploma as I got Social Security, my daughter getting married as I got senile.
A decade has come and gone since that doctor labeled me elderly, and it's true; I can't remember long division, eat Gummi Bears, or tolerate Harry Styles. But what I can do is see the world through Julia's unjaded eyes. I can focus on her need to make French toast on a Saturday morning and forget about my need to check e-mail. I can pay attention to her desire for a Chinese checkers match and let go of my desire for Botox. I can imagine a future where everything is, if not possible, at least worth a try. Cynicism makes you old. Wonder, curiosity, and unbridled joy keep you young.
Become a Classic
The clothing women wore in the '60s was made so differently from what we buy today. Its details, fabrics, construction—each piece was a labor of love. And the result was something iconic and classic, something inspired. Which is actually a pretty good metaphor for aging with grace: It takes time to create something beautiful. — Janie Bryant, Mad Men costume designer
Get Out of the City
"I am lucky to live in Kenya near a forest where there's a constant parade of zebras, buffalo, and giraffes. I often walk to a hill to watch the sun set and wait for a million stars to light the sky. Take every opportunity to unburden yourself of urban life when you can. Its clutter makes you old."
— Oria Douglas-Hamilton, wildlife conservationist, age 80
Hang Out with...
I have two friends young enough to be my daughters. One, a Midwestern cousin who's also an actress, rescued me at a recent wedding from my table of midlifers—we were reminiscing about the groom as a child—and insisted I hit the dance floor, '70s moves and all. The other, an endlessly curious marketing exec I met through work, makes a lunch date feel like an aerobic workout for my brain. They both roll their eyes if I say anything timid, even if I'm just wondering whether I can pull off the trendy oceanic nailcolors they prefer. Together they represent a free pass out of the age ghetto—that constricted mental zip code where we too often set up house.
A few years back, when I started commuting cross-country for work, some of my same-age friends questioned my sanity. But the 31-year-olds just said, "What, fun!" Their elastic view of the universe regularly forces me, at 63, to examine whether I'm making the cautious choice. I like to think I help keep them wise, while they keep me willing.
— Karen Stabiner
In my mid-30s, my life was strangely devoid of people over 65—until I started writing a book
on The Mary Tyler Moore Show,
which meant spending time with a bunch of bawdy, energetic women who voted for Eisenhower. Over the past couple of years, my new friends have taught me that aging does
have its perks:
Being immune to fashion trends. When you've seen bell-bottoms come and go and come again, you learn to just wear what looks good on you.
More perspective. Older women take the long view on leaky roofs and trying bosses.
Playing the senior card. I had no idea you could get your way—or, at least, a table at a packed restaurant—by saying, "Can you help an old gal out?"
An active love life. Sybil, my septuagenarian friend, once told me about an overseas suitor she'd had for years whom she couldn't be bothered to marry. Decades-long marriages are inspiring, but it's nice to know we have other options, too.
— Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Learn to Adapt
Given that their kind has been roaming the oceans for over 200 million years, you might say six-gilled sharks are the senior citizens of the marine world. One of the reasons they've been around for so long: Though they typically stay in deep water, they'll periodically head to shallower waters to locate food and mate. In other words, they're willing to move beyond their comfort zone to find what they need to thrive. We should be as bold. — Christopher Lowe, PhD, director of the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab
Let the Music Play
Research by Harvard professor of psychology Ellen Langer, PhD, shows that experiencing a melodious blast from the past can help turn back time for our bodies. (In one of her groundbreaking studies, a group of men in their 70s and 80s became measurably stronger after a week of living like it was 1959, including listening to '50s hits.) "Music is a cue, and if you listened to a specific song at a time when you were more vital, hearing it now can make you feel the way you felt back then," says Langer. "The more we experience that vitality, the more we question whether we need to give it up as we get older." Time to take those old records off the shelf.
— Emma Haak
Keep a Little Something for Yourself
I have an image in my head: I'm holding a small bowl in my two cupped hands and in it are 12 cranberry-sized, colorful glass beads. Those beads represent the energy I have for the day, by which I mean not the strength to walk four miles but the ability to tackle whatever comes my way. Every time we do anything that expends energy, we're giving away beads. If you use three beads to tussle with your child about what he wears to school, those beads won't be available as you go through your workday, your friend day, your daughter day. Now that I'm older, I recognize what I have to give. You cannot give away beads to everyone and not keep even one for yourself.
— Elizabeth Alexander, 50, poet
Pass on What You've Learned
Whether we're in our 20s or much older, we all need to feel that we can share something of value with others—and this can mean different things to different people. Maybe you'd like to volunteer in a classroom or raise awareness about an environmental issue. Whatever you choose to do, having a chance to impart your knowledge solidifies your sense of self, affects how you perceive your place in the world, and helps you appreciate what you've learned over the years—all key components of aging well. Plus, research indicates that we may become more adept at recognizing and solving everyday problems as we get older, which is reason enough not to keep what you know under wraps. — Linda Fried, MD, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and cofounder of AARP Experience Corps, an organization that's placed thousands of adults 50 and older in elementary schools as tutors and mentors
Stay in the Game
On the track, I'm the last line of defense against the 18- to 20-year-olds on the other team. I'm on the floor with four other teammates—two of them together aren't as old as I am—and they always say, "If Sass can do it, I can do it." They don't know I work twice as hard as they do to keep up with them. That means skating six days a week and getting up before dawn to fit training into my schedule. I have to go the extra mile on the floor, too, even if I'll pay for it later. When I return to my everyday life, my shoulders are often so black-and-blue that I raise a few eyebrows. Even if I suffer bumps and bruises, though, the sport is so empowering. I'm constantly reminded what I can accomplish—and never to sell myself short.
— Dani "Sassy" Lewis, 44, member of the Oly Rollers, 2012 USARS Roller Derby national champions