It has been my ‘lot’ in life to always look younger than I am. It doesn’t help that I am also small. There are a number of people like me about. I am sure we would all agree that it was terrible when we were younger.
No one took us seriously. We were called ‘cute’ and other similarly demeaning words. We tried all sorts of things to try to look older. It was our own private struggle.
But now that we are in our later years, it is certainly a plus. I recently turned 80 and many people say that they just don’t believe it.
And nor do I ‘feel’ it.
The interesting question is why.
And what can you do to achieve the same?
I am not an expert, but it is commonly said that our genes have a lot to do with how healthy we are, how long we live and how we look.
It is true that both my parents lived to age 90 and both looked young for their age. My father, especially, was known for his ‘boyish’ looks.
They were also, in general, healthy. My mother had all sorts of minor ailments and was a willing pill-taker for every problem. My father had few health problems and avoided doctors and medication like the plague.
But, in truth, there is little you can do about this. Whether you are pleased or bemoan your genes, you are stuck with them.
Let us move on.
Everywhere you look these days, the usual suspects for healthy living – eating healthy food and regular exercise – are viewed as the sovereign remedy for most ills. I suspect the same is true for looking and feeling young.
I will not rehearse here the many elements of eating well, but we all know more or less what they are.
I have the good fortune to have always liked vegetables of all kinds (well, maybe not okra). Even as a child, I preferred vegetables to meat.
But I am no angel and there is also a long list of the ‘unhealthy’ things I would eat happily in quantity, if I didn’t keep watch. Chocolate. Good bread with loads of butter and possibly jam. Mint chocolate chip ice cream.
You will have your own tastes and your own list. And better or worse will-power.
And I never sought out exercise. I was hopeless at every sport as a child and teenager and was never wanted by any team. As I grew older, I knew exercise was supposed to be good for me, yet found it hard to develop any enthusiasm.
But I have walked a lot all my life – in part because I never owned a car. And I discovered Iyengar yoga in later life. Both of these activities keep me surprisingly fit.
If these lists were up to me, I would add sex. When my father started a love affair at the age of 90, his doctor said it was one of the best things that could have happened to him for his health.
Sex brings us joy, intimacy and – increasingly – laughter. Surely, these things help us to feel good and look young.
In any case, if you want to look and feel younger, it would be a good idea to follow – as best as you are able – all the elements of healthy living, however defined.
But when I am asked, as I was only a few days ago, what helps to keep me young, my first answer is something else.
I always say you should carry on doing whatever it is that you have loved doing in life. If you love dancing, keep at it in one way or another. If you loved drawing, just keep doing it. If you love swimming, keep going to the beach or pool. If it is bridge, keep playing.
And so forth.
(I will draw the line if what you loved doing was binge drinking, taking heavy drugs or gambling. Doing more of any of these is unlikely to help you at all.)
I never set out to follow this course as a matter of principle. I just never stopped doing what I liked doing. I like writing and I still write as much as ever. I love my yoga and I do my best to keep at it through thick and thin (yes, balancing postures are increasingly difficult, but I try, teeter and have a laugh).
Putting these together, I just wrote a book called The Granny Who Stands on her Head, which expands on my reflections on growing older.
And there are loads of other activities I have done all my life, which I have never seen a reason to stop – reading, singing in a choir, eating out and so on. I can’t recommend them to you, because they are not necessarily what you like.
But I can recommend that you just keep doing all those things you did in your 40s and 50s, unless there is some health or other reason why you can’t.
Then life just continues, and you get older, but you don’t really notice. You’re just too busy living it.
And the good news is, this is one area of life which you can really do something about. You don’t even have to sacrifice that extra chocolate pudding or rest on the sofa.
It’s all fun. It’s what you have always liked to do.
What do you think keeps you looking young? What keeps you feeling young? What activities would you like to do more than you do?