Can We Rebuild Resilience as We Age?
I read an article by a fellow Silver Sister recently which troubled me a bit, and I want to respond in what I hope to be a genuinely caring and responsible way.
The article spoke to a truth for this person, and clearly a few others, that as we age, we slow down. We deteriorate. We get tired more easily, as we’ve lost our resilience.
Kindly, while I don’t argue that Covid has not been a friend to many if not most of us, and we didn’t exactly sign up happily to sit out most of the last year hiding out in quarantine right when a good many of us (my hand is up here) had trips planned, I do argue the tenor of the article. For while it may well be very true that you and I feel weary at times, there is a great deal we can and could do about it.
The author’s comments are her opinion. They are not facts. For the research speaks volumes otherwise. I honor the author’s opinion, but I prefer to lean on the facts. In this case, the facts speak to great hope and possibility for a vivid life despite our age.
I write a lot about fitness after 50, as do many of my fellow Sixty and Me contributors. To a person, I guarantee you that they would likely categorically disagree that age=deterioration, and that there isn’t much we can do about it.
In fact, age, loss, growth, and the many demands of a long life are precisely what give us resilience. Many of us have made it through wars, bad marriages (which are often one and the same), kids, loss of parents, some lost their kids, many of us lost our health and regained it (same as pounds, but that’s another story) and are now in our later years, stronger than ever.
In fact, many of us might argue pretty strenuously that one of the greatest gifts of age is in fact resilience, the kind that ONLY age and experience can grant us. In this regard, youth is incredibly brittle. By our 60s, we have a far better idea about what really matters in life.
About Being Tired. Let’s Talk.
What you and I might experience as being tired quite often has to do with two things, both of which you and I have a great of influence over, should we decide to do the work:
#1 Our attitudes and beliefs about aging, which can do us far more damage than age itself, and
#2 Self-care, which includes the right kind of exercise FOR US, the right kinds of food FOR US and even more importantly, people around us who lift us up, cheer us up, and do not let us stay down.
In this widely-quoted and very powerful study by Professor Becca Levy, Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, Yale University, the points that might interest us most are these:
Exposure to negative and positive age stereotypes over time plays a crucial role in whether people develop signs of dementia in their later years.
The central message of the theory, and the research supporting it, is that the aging process is, in part, a social construct.
My sports chiro likes to say that age is a mental virus. In this regard he is absolutely right. For as he has aged into his middle years, his athletic performance has actually improved. He runs faster, jumps higher, and can lift much more weight now than he did 30 years ago.
The reasons are simple: he works hard at it, eats carefully, and immerses himself not only in the best of positive thinking but also surrounds himself with people of like mind.
So do I. And so do those who are my closest friends, men and women in their 60s and well beyond. We are none of us Olympic athletes. However, we are positive, energetic, and happy, and our energy stores are endless.
Part of what that takes is being very mindful of food choices, which change as our bodies do. We simply adapt. If we can no longer run, we hike or walk. If we can’t do that, we bike. We adapt, but we keep moving. A lot. That is part of what resilience looks like.
Resilience is as much mental as anything else. When we keep telling ourselves how tired we are, we talk ourselves into being exhausted. The mind is a malleable, plastic thing, immensely powerful. So what we tell it, it likes to reinforce so that we can be right.
If we believe we deteriorate as we age, we do. Just as when we believe that we are strong, energetic, and enthusiastic, we align ourselves to those beliefs. And, happily, prove ourselves right. What do you want to be right about?
The Spring, the Sun, and Shining on
So while I most certainly understand that the last year has left its marks, including perhaps a few unwelcomed additional stretch marks, you and I are alive. Spring is almost here. The sun continues to rise, the moon does too.
What you and I do with the time we have left to us is up to us. For my part, I would prefer to fill it with possibilities, not the terrible weight of losses. For while we have all suffered losses, we are all still full of light, possibility, and gifts to give the world.
The question I have for each of us, including myself, is whether or not we will choose to make ours shine, by taking care of it, or let it gutter out, by giving up?
What are you doing to live your fullest life right now? Or have you decided that you can no longer be resilient? What methods are you using to stay energetic, positive, and engaged? What do you do on the inevitable down days we all have? Let’s talk!