What the hell happened? And what are we doing about it?
Chances are good that Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z will have a smoother road to aging than the Boomers, leading to both smoother faces and stronger bones and joints. Their biggest liability to an ageless winter is their lack of vitamin D caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight. Because. Video games and internet.
My son is a Millennial who has been diagnosed with low vitamin D. How could he not be? The sport he plays is basketball, which is largely played indoors. In high school and college the majority of the rest of his time was spent studying indoors, or playing video games in a darkened room. His darker skin takes longer to soak up vitamin D than his lighter skinned counterparts. But his generation, and the one preceding and following, know to supplement the vitamins and minerals they are missing. Many of them are vegetarian or vegan, or at least eat healthy. They have been helicoptered into sports, dance, martial arts, etc. They have a head start.
My generation got plenty of vitamin D. What we didn’t get was the promised fountains of youth. Our women were going to be the second generation to be given Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT (my mother took premarin), which would keep us looking and feeling young forever. Until one flawed study linked HRT to breast cancer. It was never replicated, and has been repudiated by later studies, but an entire generation decided not to take the one treatment that would protect us from heart disease (the biggest cause of death for women), forestall osteopenia and osteoporosis, lubricate our joints and our vaginas, and improve our moods.
Miraculous strides have been made in other areas. Knee and hip replacements are almost common, and while they only last ten years, they give people more time to be active. When I told my Doctor I was too young to be thinking of a knee replacement. He answered, “Carol, it’s your generation that has to have them because you’ve stayed so active. You play sports, dance, climb, hike, lift weights and ride. Of course your joints wear out.” Since I did twenty years of the martial art Aikido, supplemented by years of dancing, I can see his point.
I wouldn’t trade any of those extreme sport years, or the dance classes, for anything. Not even better knees and hips. I don’t regret a single break fall, or begrudge any of the times I was thrown across the room (in Aikido, not dance). Do I wish there wasn’t a price to pay for that? I really do. And if I could go back and tell my younger self how my future body would pay for the joys of self defense, and flying through the air from being thrown or doing a jazz leap, I’m sure my younger self wouldn’t listen. But what do I do now, to ward off not just the physical effects of aging, but the mental ones as well?What do I tell my clients to do?
Walking is a multipurpose activity. And you can walk even with creaky knees. Those 10,000 steps a day everybody seems to be doing is a game changer. Technology that tells us when to leave our desks or comfortable couches to walk and move is a modern miracle. I have seen people jump up and stride around the room for ten minutes to keep their steps up. While it’s unnerving to those of us having a conversation with them, it is inspiring. Walking can be a moving meditation. Not so much when you are striding in circles in an office or living room, but when it is done in nature. In nature, as you walk, you can focus on how your body feels, the sounds of birds and trees, or maybe the ocean or a stream around you, and the beauty on all sides. This quiets the mind, and you can activate the observer within you, that which some call the soul. If you use your peripheral vision as you walk, you will also lower your blood pressure.
Stay young by trying new things, or by reviving an interest from your past. New activities require you to think and move in different ways. Reviving a former activity reminds you of the joy you had once and can have again. I began screenwriting, a completely new form of writing for me. And I still dance often, though sometimes with a knee brace or two. I can teach Aikido, and become the venerated elder that they aren’t allowed to throw. Where can you use your expertise and joy?
Keep the mind young by having conversations with Millennials. They have a fresh way of looking at almost everything. The internet keeps them in touch with others their age all over the world. Many of them are entrepreneurial. Most of them don’t accept society’s fundamentals without question. And that’s a good thing. At the same time, you can fill them in on the history you have lived through. History that they can only Google.
Add vitamin D. And vitamin K, which helps with vitamin D absorption into your bones. Take calcium and magnesium, and any other “um” your Doctor or Naturopath recommends. Make sure you get enough Omegas. Eat fish, if you aren’t vegan. Drink less alcohol and enjoy it more. You know what to do.
Basically, do not go gently into that good night. Kick and scream and dance and party. Keep reading and writing. Keep moving. And women, take the damned hormones! You’ll thank me later.