Hello beautiful soul! Today let’s talk about the difference between growing older and ageing, and why one is a natural process of life and the other is simply cultural and not a necessary part of growing older.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that the thought of growing older does stir a certain degree of fear/ anxiety/sadness in many people. In fact, if you pay close attention you will notice that there is a set of pretty negative beliefs around the passing of time and what it is meant to imply for us all. As if instead of looking forward to the wisdom we gain through experience, we should be fearing the "inevitable decline" that comes with age. And, judging by many advertising campaigns, It also seems as if eternal youth is the ultimate recipe to happiness. And that, my dear friends, is mission impossible! The problem is not the passing of time, the issue is what we do with it and how we choose to look at life. Once again, it is about choosing power over helplessness, because I am here to tell you that there is another way to look at this.
Now the fact that most people seem to think that growing older equals to decline & failing capacities, does not make it true. May I remind you that at some point in our obscure past MOST PEOPLE THOUGHT THE EARTH WAS FLAT! right? Ok, now I’d like you to look at the current theory of ageing as if it were a representation of flat-earth-landia, because it is! And, you gotta stop having those crazy thoughts if you want to live a long, healthy & fulfilled life. Mindset really is key!
I personally want to live well into my hundreds so I can experience life to the full, and have time to give back all the wisdom and love I have acquired through my journey. It is my way of contributing to this world becoming a better place with time. So for quite some years now, I have been looking into how I can do that. And let me tell you, there is a complete other way of looking at this.
This post aims to give you a new perspective, as well as the tools you need to kick start your healthy centenarian mindset and live the long, vibrant, fulfilling life you deserve. Most of this article is based on the findings Dr. Mario Martinez exposes in his book: The MindBody Code, because it has had such an impact on my own life. Dr. Mario Martinez is a clinical neuropsychologist who has been studying the wellness of growing older for decades and if you haven’t read his work yet, I recommend you go grab yourself some of his material pronto. It is groundbreaking, thought provoking and life changing.
Alright then, let’s go debunk some good old ageing myths!
GROWING OLDER DOES NOT EQUAL AGEING/DECLINE:
“There is a difference between growing older and ageing. The first one is a normal process, the natural result of the passing of time. The second is not and is cultural.” Dr. Mario Martinez.
His way of looking at it, is that ageing is what you do with your time based on your cultural beliefs. Each culture has different “portals” around ageing. Think youth, middle age, retirement, senior citizenship etc. Those portals depend on culture, not genetics and vary from one society to the next. As Ghandi once said himself “You tend to become what you believe” so be careful what you choose to believe. If you want some science to back up that quote, try reading about epigenetics and how your emotional environment affects your biology. Oh wait my last blog post speaks about that. Have you read it yet?
Now one of the most ludicrous beliefs out there, if you ask me, is the notion of middle age. First of all good luck on determining when that is. Do you know when you are going to die? I personally prefer not to be let into that secret too soon. Oh and the implications that after you reach that imaginary/arbitrary mark that it is all down hill, are not only really disheartening but also detrimental to your health. A study conducted by Harvard Sociologist Ellen Langer, examining why some people looked much younger than others, showed that people who looked significantly younger than their age believed that middle age started 15 years later than those who looked significantly older. As you can see, the markers we set influence our biology. It makes you think right? That is how powerful your beliefs are.
So, let’s start to change that. Yes, you can grow old, be fit and healthy, and that, beautiful soul, largely depends on you, on your lifestyle and, above all, on your beliefs.
As with everything it is a matter of perspective. One of the points Dr. Mario Martinez makes in his book is that gerontology mostly studies the pathology of ageing rather than the wellness of growing older. And, that is not a very positive way of looking at things in the first place. Luckily, over the last decades serious studies have started to come out on the wellness of growing older and there is a lot of hope for us all.
It turns out that not everybody declines with age, on the contrary, and just as well since centenarians are the fastest growing segment population in the US, for example (15% of those people live alone). They account for 75,000 citizens and It is expected that by 2030 there will be 4.5 million of them in the .U.S alone. And no, that does not necessarily mean more work for hospitals and retirement homes, because if we shift our beliefs these people can actually bring tremendous value to our society. And, you and I can learn how to become like them one day too.
According to recent studies on healthy centenarians there is usually no real genetic factor involved. What truly sets all of these people apart is the way they choose to look at the world and the supportive communities they build around them. These studies span all social backgrounds and cultures. No matter where healthy centenarians come from, they have a definite mindset that keeps them healthy and fulfilled: a growth mindset. The older they get the healthier they become. According to a New England Centenarian Study by Harvard Medical School, men in their 90s were found to have better cognitive abilities than men in their 70s or 80s. That means that as you grow older healthy, the probability of you getting better goes up.
Centenarians do not die of long, deteriorating diseases. There are no cancers registered in the studies conducted. Most of them die in their sleep or from a sudden accident.
So what exactly is the secret to their mindset?
HOW YOUR MIND & CULTURE AFFECT YOUR BIOLOGY:
To grasp the centenarian mindset, you also have to understand how much your thoughts & culture affect your biology and be prepared to take full responsibility for that.
The mind is very powerful and studies are showing that one can age by observation, through simply being around people who are ageing themselves rather than embracing life and growing older.
One of the studies cited in this book blew my mind and really highlights how our beliefs do in fact shape our biology.
This study examined a group of 80 years olds, dividing them into two groups. Group A was told that they were going to a place where they would live as if they were 50 again. They were given name tags with pictures of themselves at that age and during their entire stay, they were immersed in an environment where they got to act as if they were 50 years old again, whether it be through the music they listened to, the activities they did etc. Group B on the other hand, were told they were going to a place where they would reminisce about how it was to be 50 again. All they did was talk about the good old days for 5 days.
Before the 5 days both groups were put through medical tests, measuring muscle tone and other physical parameters used to monitor ageing. Before and after pictures were also taken. At the end of the 5 days, Group A showed significant improvement in all their medical tests. Their photographs were presented to an objective panel of people who perceived them as looking years younger by the end of the experiment. And what about Group B? Well they got worse, because they were put into nostalgia mode and that also affected their biology in a negative way.
This is pretty thought provoking huh?
Another Harvard study performed on the Tarahumara indigenous tribe of the Sierra Madre, in Mexico, shows that thanks to the cultural belief that their hearts get stronger with age, people over 60 in those tribes had better cardio vascular capacities than people in their 20s. These tribes are known as runners. They are so good at running that the way they hunt is to exhaust their prey by running after it. They believe that as you grow older your heart gets stronger and you become a better runner, and so it is.
Ageism .i.e the prejudice that failing capacities are normal for the older is a toxic belief. And, if you think that the way your culture handles the passing of time does not affect you, think again!
However, this is actually very empowering information because with the right attitude you can absolutely override the status quo and create a life of prolonged wellness on your own terms. You create your reality!
The book is truly fascinating and I won’t give everything away in this article. My objective is to get you thinking about this, so you can do your own research and take it in your stride. If you want to look into it, there is plenty of material out there and I shall also leave a list of useful resources below.
THE HEALTHY CENTENARIAN MINDSET:
As I said before, what really sets those people apart is their way of handling and looking at life. They do not necessarily have better genes than you and me, they do not necessarily come from privileged backgrounds and they most certainly have not had a life void of obstacles.
However, the way they look at things makes all the difference: they choose to grow older rather than age. Rather than being afraid of the passing of time, they look forward to the years to come. They are negotiators and co-creators who take responsibility for their decisions. When they see a doctor they take active part in their recovery. They do not simply hand over all the power to him/her, expecting a quick fix like most people do. They listen, do their research and based on the information, take the appropriate advice and action. In fact, due to their proactive stance, most of them rarely go to the doctor at all. Their philosophy is: how can I get help, so I can help myself.
They are usually fearless about challenges as well. They take them in their stride. Again it is that sense of responsibility for one’s own life that gives them that power. They tend to have a good sense of humor and don’t take themselves seriously. They forgive easily and are optimists. They believe they are in charge of their lives and usually have a degree of commitment and involvement within a community. They are healthy narcissists (they love themselves but not at the expense of others).
They have no notion of middle age and do not talk about age in general. Most look and act much younger than their age. They tend to associate with young people or “young people at heart”, which keeps them healthy and vibrant as well.
Now here are a few wellness commonalities that emerged from those studies:
2. Take pleasure in rituals
Centenarians enjoy their rituals. They might smoke a cigar or have a brandy at the end of every day, but again they come from a place of pleasure, not from addiction. That is why it does not affect their overall health. A ritual is something that allows them to identify with their joy and to celebrate. It is not a routine.
3. Live a healthy, happy, empowered lifestyle
The brain and the mind do not deteriorate together: a healthy mind depends on the kind of lifestyle you choose for yourself. It is not what happens to you that matters but how you perceive it that does. A challenge with the right mindset can be exciting and growth inducing. Remaining in a disempowering job on the other hand, can wreak havoc on your health. You get to choose if you are in charge or not. Healthy centenarians take charge of their lives by taking responsibility for were they are at and changing what they do not like. They usually have a purpose, they love being of service to others, although they do not live for others which is an important distinction.
4. Loose the ageing portals
Centenarians have no sense of ageing. They are present centred and remain optimistic about the future but they do not live for the future. They do not waste their life away in a disempowering job, waiting for retirement for example. They have a sense of purpose and simply move from one stage of their lives to another.
5. Surround yourself with the right people
Healthy centenarians live in subcultures that revere their elders and support their beliefs. If you do not have immediate access to that, create your own by reading books, watching talks, attending seminars and going out of your way to meet people who will support and validate your beliefs.
6. Believe in something greater than you
Amongst the recorded healthy centenarians there were no atheists. It doesn’t necessary mean that all healthy centenarians are religious, but they are spiritual in the sense that they believe in something greater than them, in a benign force/universe/god etc.
As you will have gathered from all of this: mindset in an important component of health. And the good news is that it can be learned. So, here is your own checklist to get you started:
YOUR CENTENARIAN COMMITMENT CHECKLIST (there is no age to start, you can adopt these at 14 or 75):
And there you have it beautiful Soul. I hope this article has made you think a little and that you are contemplating adopting some of those healthy behaviours yourself. In order for our world to be a better place, we also need to shift our perception around how we make use of the passing of time and how we treat our elderly. I, myself, have committed not to disclose my age for over a year now and have felt freer as a result. This is just a new way for me to truly show up as my authentic self without being pegged into someone else’s box or expectations of where I should or shouldn’t be in my life. You see other people's limitations can rub off on you, if you are not careful!
As we have seen the less you let outdated cultural beliefs shape you, the healthier you will be. I really dream of a day when questions like what do you do? and how old are you? will be replaced by the likes of: what excites you most right now? What experience has been most growth inducing for you? What do you love about your life? and … fill in the blank.
Arbitrary factors such as your age do not determine who you are as a person and what you can do. The world is your oyster, learn to live it on your own terms.
May you live a long, fulfilled and healthy life!
With all my love,
As a BioNeuroEmotion (BNE) practitioner, I empower other Soul Seekers to move beyond their own limitations so they can take charge of their lives and embody their full potential. Should this resonate, you can find out more about my work here.
Podcasts and inspiring videos for you to start your own subculture:
Hi, I´m Dannie
A fellow soul seeker, blogger & certified BioNeuroEmotion® (BNE) practitioner who is passionate about growing, self actualising & learning in order to lead a more coherent/conscious life and help others do the same.