I will never forget when I was in Normandy, France in 2004 seeing 60-70+ year old women rummaging through beautiful French lingerie being sold in stalls in an open air market along with other things like chocolate, wine, produce, cheese, and other goods.
What struck me the most about this scene was the graceful aging of these older foreign French women, with their years of drinking red wine, smoking, and doing whatever else the french do, and how openly enthusiastic they were about buying up these racy undergarments in their later years. Needless to say it was not a scene I was accustomed to seeing in America.
Much has been made of the way the French, as well Mediterranean people as a whole, age well. One thing is for sure, the French have a zeal for life. As politically socialist as the country is, the French tend to focus their lives around tradition, craftsmanship, family, and food, a healthy way to live in any country.
When it comes to aging well, I have a different take than most.
The Japanese have a word, Ikigai, that I use, which basically means, “the reason you get up in the morning”.
The changes which have taken place in the last couple hundred years, particularly the last 50 or so in the US, have made this concept of Ikigai crucial. Life is dramatically different now that it has ever been and it can be downright confusing and depressing at times. Nihilism seems to be the zeitgeist of our age. Many have shunned the past, shunned family, shunned religion, shunned tradition, and are left asking, what’s next?
If you want to age well, finding your Ikigai, I believe is the key. This comes natural to many, but not so natural for others.
Here are some ways you can incorporate Ikigai into aging well.
1) Identity: This is huge and something we rarely think about. To age well, find your identity and stay connected to it. A strong identity causes us to have unconscious cascades of biological reactions at the cellular level which promote health (through endorphins and other hormones).
What do I care strongly about?
How can I learn about, connect to, and pass on knowledge about my ancestors?
How can I contribute to the causes I care deeply about?
Where am I from and what do I love about it?
Who has given to me that I should be grateful to?
Which special talents do I have that I could use at work? If I don’t know, how could I find out?
How would I like to, if at all, break with the past, with tradition?
Which traditions in my family, and in my country, and in my community, are important to me and that I want to carry on?
What new traditions could I start in my family and in my community?
What is sacred to me and how can I incorporate it into my life?
How can I build a better future for those I identify with and care about the most, but not at the expense of others (think Win-Win)?
2) Emotional Health: Good emotional health decreases stress and the stress hormone cortisol, which prevents premature aging. Forgive people. Control your anger and channel it into positive pursuits. Set boundaries. Live with courage. Speak your mind. Try to understand the other person’s point of view but don’t be intimidated. Journal. Breathe. Pray. Meditate. Run. Let it go. Laugh.
3) Physical Health: Back to the previous post.
We age physically through two means: Oxidative stress and glycation. These two are pretty straightforward. To mitigate Oxidative stress, exercise regularly, ingest antioxidants (red wine is a good example), and avoid pollution and carcinogens like cigarette smoke and burnt meat.
Caramelization, or Glycation, is what happens when we have too much sugar running wild inside the body. Again, think of the brown layer of lasagna inside the oven. Delicious to eat, but not what you want happening on the inside. Control your blood sugar by limiting sugar intake and processed carbs, and by staying active on a daily basis.
So there you have it. A quick guide to aging well. Perhaps most importantly, get out and enjoy life!
Here’s a little motivational video from Braveheart for the weekend: