I spend the majority of my waking hours trying to figure out ways to interrupt the mindset of aging. I seek out inspiring people over 50 every day in my quest for healthy aging insight and answers. And one No. 1 response from 100% of them is that we need to kick antiquated thinking to the curb.
Mindset of Aging is Everything
The mindset of aging is EVERYTHING. What I see is too many peers in my generation – Baby Boomers – falling into the trap of comparing their fitness and performance at 20, 30 or 40 to what they can do at 50, 60 or 70. They get emotionally twisted up about what aging is doing TO them instead of focusing on what aging is doing FOR them.
Undoubtedly, the physiological processes that take place over the decades can affect our performance. But that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing the activities that fuel our health and fitness. The human body is incredibly capable of doing amazing things at 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond, but we first have to choose to believe we can. We have to purposefully interrupt commonly accepted notions and stereotypes about aging.
Bright Light for Healthy Aging
I hold up Ernestine Shepherd as a bright light in the healthy aging movement. At 80 (she’ll be 81 in June), she’s a competitive female bodybuilder and an inspiration for generations many times her junior.
The kicker is she didn’t even start her fitness journey until she was 56. Shepherd could easily have been sucked down the geezer drain and never pursued fitness.
Instead, she’s thriving, motivating millions, building an empire and enjoying the best health of her life. Who’s to say we all can’t have that?
What I have found is middle-aged former athletes buy into their own bull unless someone they respect challenges them.
Here’s the stuff that gets my hackles up. “I’m too old … I can’t do that anymore … I’m not as young as I used to be … I can’t train enough, so I’m done … It’s time to hang it up … I just can’t move like I used to.”
It’s feels as if we’re reaching and stretching for a million reasons why we CAN’T instead of finding all the reasons why we CAN and SHOULD.
New Habits = New Thinking
What’s stopping any of us, like Ernestine, from embracing a healthy mindset of aging and getting in the best shape of our lives at any age? Unless we have debilitating diseases, crippling handicaps or extreme medical issues, we just need a swift kick in the ass. Heck, there are phenomenal athletes who do extraordinary things without arms or legs and with chronic diseases.
It’s time to leave the proverbial geezers at the door. New habits are borne from new thinking. I was chatting with my friend and former cycling coach not too long ago about what it takes to transform a “nothing” mindset to an “all” mindset as we age. We have to find ways to interrupt ingrained patterns of thinking and shift our mindsets to believing our bodies are capable of anything as long as we still have the power to move.
My coach shared this excerpt from the late Dr. George Sheehan, a cardiologist, runner and senior athlete, and author of the New York Times bestseller, Running and Being: The Total Experience.
“Through running I have learned what I can be and do. My body is now sensitive to the slightest change. I tis particularly aware of any decline or decay. I can feel this lessening of the ‘me’ that I have come to think of myself. Running has made this new me, taken the raw material and honed it and delivered it back ready to do the work of a human being. I run so I do not lose the me I was yesterday and the me I might become tomorrow.”
Give Your Body a Leading Role
Our bodies play a leading role in our overall emotional and spiritual well-being. If we are sick or tired or achy or cranky, we succumb to negative self-talk and defeatist thinking. We are sucked into the geezer rabbit hole.
I say this because I’ve been there. I was sliding down that slippery slope of accepting that an expanding waistline, soft muscles and the wear and tear of aging were inevitable. Thankfully, I shook myself out of that funk, got my act together, hit the gym and got into the best shape of my life at 58. I feel healthier and younger now than I did 20 years ago.
Mindset is, by far, the most powerful weapon we have in the arsenal of healthy aging. If you haven’t read the bestseller Younger Next Year – Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge, you should.
It’s an insightful, motivating, and often hilarious exploration of exercise, nutrition and emotional health that will jump-start the second half of your life.
One of my favorite parts comes at the very end with “Harry’s Rules,” which I have posted in my office as a daily reminder to keep my head and body in the right place. Here goes:
- Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
- Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
- Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
- Spend less than you make.
- Quit eating crap!
- Connect and commit.
Motivate & Inspire
When I talk to people over 50 who are living active lifestyles, I find them to be incredibly motivating and inspiring. They are universally optimistic about aging. They’re blind to barriers that would prevent them from setting and achieving big goals. They get kind of peeved when asked if anything or anyone could stop them from doing what they love.
The words of one such athlete will stick with me for a long time. Larry Burns nearly lost his life in a head-on cycling accident 16 years ago. Despite a painstaking journey back to the sport he loves, he is determined to live life to the fullest and enjoy every day as a gift.
“When you stop, it’s over,” Larry interjects. “Life is about doing. It’s not about laying there waiting for death. Anything less is just waiting for the end to come. And I’ll be darned if I’ll do that.”
Me, too, Larry. We are not done yet.