While on break from my classes, I took advantage of a free flu shot offered through the college where I teach. When I popped into the small conference room crammed with colleagues and nervous laughter, a young 20-something woman handed me a form that I completed and returned.

The woman looked at me and said in a loud, slow voice, “Since you’re a senior citizen, you’ll need an extra-strength dose.” I had been cut from the herd. I looked at my colleagues – all in their 30s and 40s – and I suddenly felt like the ghost from Christmas past.

In his recently published book, Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging, author Alan Castel reports that our subjective age is often 20% younger than our actual age.

I don’t feel much different than I did a decade or two ago. When I look in the mirror, I see the same image I saw the day before. Yet I am aware that not only do others see me through a different lens, I really am different in some significant and interesting ways.

Grappling with the ‘Senior’ Thing

Yesterday, I made a telephone appointment for a mammogram. After taking a minute to look up my patient records, the scheduler asked if I needed assistance walking and wondered if I could stand without any support.

I was initially surprised that anyone would ask me these questions. I live an active, healthy life and still jog four miles or more most days. Yet, I’m in my mid-60s and am considered a senior.

I’m grappling with what it means to be a ‘senior’ when I still think of myself as ‘forever young’. Because of better healthcare and increased knowledge about aging and taking care of ourselves, many of us can anticipate living much longer, heathier lives than previous generations could have imagined.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, those of us who make it to our 65th birthdays have a one in four chance of living until we are at least 90. Relatively speaking, 60-something isn’t all that old.

Adjusting to Natural Changes

Balance

Even though we may feel younger than our actual age, aging does usher in a number of changes. For example, maintaining our physical balance can become an issue as we age.

I was jogging the first time I lost my balance. I told myself that I had fallen because I slipped on loose gravel. But when I lost my balance a couple more times within the next few months, I realized something had changed.

My daughter-in-law, who has her doctorate in physical therapy, told me that one of the most important things we can do as we age is to work on our balance.

Over the past year, I’ve been working on my balance and can report that it has improved. I’ve also read some helpful articles, for example one about improving balance by Margaret Manning and one article exploring if balance can prolong life by Dr. Anna Lamnari.

Physical Activity

In addition to experiencing some changes in our balance, many of us simply can’t move as fast as we once did. I’ve been jogging for over 30 years and used to cover a mile in about seven minutes.

Last year, while out jogging like I’ve always done, a woman in a car pulled up along side me, rolled her window down and said in what sounded like a rather patronizing tone, “Good for you, sweetie. Keep it up.” Then she flashed a ‘thumbs up’ as encouragement.

Instead of feeling encouraged, I was initially insulted. Why was this woman talking to me like I was some sweet little old lady shuffling down the road? It wasn’t until later that I realized that over the years I had slowed down to about a 14-minute mile and indeed did tend to shuffle at times.

General Health

I used to see a nurse practitioner who once told me that we have ‘wiggle room’ in our 40s when it concerns our health. But as we reach our 50s and beyond, there isn’t much wiggle room left.

When I was younger, I thought I could get away with missing sleep, working in high stress environments, or eating too much processed food. Now I’m out of wiggle room. I cannot ignore my physical, emotional, or mental health needs.

Last week, while dealing with a number of stressful situations, I developed a heart arrhythmia problem that persisted over four days. It scared me. I once thought of myself as invincible. I’m not. I saw my doctor and got some help.

Discovering New Opportunities

Even though aging does require adjusting to natural changes, it also represents new opportunities. I have friends who are discovering their inner artist-selves in their 60s. These women no longer fear what others think about their creative works.

One of my other friends has become a published poet. Another is starting a part-time business because she likes a challenge. After she retired, one of my neighbors discovered that she had a passion for social activism and also had a gift for mobilizing people. A couple other neighbors have formed walking groups.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t care for the ‘senior citizen’ because it is associated with a lot of negative connotations. However, I do recognize that aging requires some adjustments. Yet it also offers a whole new world of opportunities.

We really do have an opportunity to live our best lives now. It just means learning how to do it.

What are some ways you are adjusting to natural aging so that you can live your life to the fullest? Do you think that labels such as ‘senior citizen’ limit how others might see any of us? What are some of the most positive aspects of aging that you are currently enjoying? Please share in the comments below.

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