Important truths about growing older

From someone who hopes he’s at the halfway point

Biomedical gerontologist Aubry de Grey believes that the first person who will live to be 150 is most likely already alive today. He also believes that we may reach a point of “escape velocity” with longevity research. Basically, if you can hang in there, you may live long enough to achieve immortality.

“Once we get to the first generation of therapies that will, for example, give us an extra 20 or 30 years of healthy life, then that will be beyond this escape velocity transition, such that we will not have much trouble progressing the science faster than time is passing. So, the practical upshot will be that we live indefinitely.” — Aubrey de Grey

Some of this is due to improvements in medical treatments to reverse damage. Some of it will be due to preventative intervention to stave off cellular degeneration before too much damage accumulates to be irreversible. But, an important part of it is due to a greater understanding of the impact of lifestyle decisions. Many of us are eating better, giving up bad habits, and exercising.

My grandparents passed away many years ago. I’m certain that they would have lived much longer if they hadn’t smoked and made unhealthy diet choices. Intentional exercise was simply not considered. They weren’t from a generation that believed in “working out.”

They worked and lived their daily lives. They were certainly physically active with hard jobs when they were younger. But, they were a bit sedentary as they grew older.

You don’t have to accept the traditional view of aging

My vision of “old age” wasn’t very positive for most of my life. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I would imagine that many of you aren’t either. I know that, at least in the U.S., we don’t paint a pretty picture of the elderly.

Watch the news, sitcoms, or movies, and you’ll assume that you’ll be shuffling around with a walker shouting at children to get off your lawn. Or, falling down and asking for help to get back up. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

I now know that most of this is an artifact of generational norms. My generation (Gen X) is already changing the story. Many of us have become midlife athletes, even if we weren’t very athletic in our youth. We’re discovering the joy of tuning our bodies to become fit and healthy.

I can truthfully claim that I’m in better physical shape now at 51 than I was at 25. That may sound strangely sad, but a staggering number of young people don’t actively manage their health or physical fitness. I certainly wasn’t very consistent with my efforts. 82% of Americans don’t regularly engage in all of the exercise and activity required to maintain cardiovascular health and muscular fitness.

All I know is that I’m damn happy that I am committed to my health and fitness now. I’ve been consistent with my training and lifestyle for over 8 years now, and I’ve never felt better.

Do things change as you grow older? Of course they do. I’ve lived long enough to discover that. But, how you age depends a great deal on how you treat yourself.

Make a choice

Much like a classic car, you can either have a beautiful old car that still drives well and looks elegant, but requires a little more loving care. Or, you can have a rusted, busted piece of crap that smokes, lurches, and groans its way down the road.

I was young once, and I’ve worked in an industry where my teams were often young enough to be my children. So, I’ve witnessed my fair share of derision of the elderly.

I find this amusing. It’s almost as if the young think they are another species. Guess what? We are your future. That is, if you survive long enough.

You only have three choices:

  1. Die young and don’t grow old. Unfortunately, some of my friends took this route. They chose to burn out, instead of the hypothetical “fading away.”
  2. Grow old and be miserable. This is your destiny if you decide to ignore your health and pay the piper later.
  3. Grow old with grace. Accept that we all grow older, if we’re lucky. Make the investment in yourself so that you’re one of the few who is still kicking ass until the end of your days. Hell, you might even achieve immortality if you take this seriously.

It’s better than you fear

Like I said, I’m 51 years old. I’ve reached the point in my life where my young self thought life would begin to suck. I’m glad to report that he was wrong.

Many of you reading this are younger than I am. Let me reassure you that aging doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It only becomes bad when you give up and give in, as past generations often did.

Get out of your youth bubble and meet some older folks. I have been lucky enough to have older role models who have shown me that you can stay sharp, active, and engaged until the end of your days. They give me hope.

Our society has become more mobile and families are scattered. We spent most of our lives far away from our parents and grandparents. So, this meant fewer opportunities for our children to interact with older people, learning to value and cherish them vs. feeling uncomfortable around them. I know that we had to seek out these role models and create our own diverse community.

Ignore the bullshit that the media and entertainment industry has fed us. The elderly aren’t comedic devices. Getting older isn’t the scary thing that advertisers want you to believe, so that you’ll buy their crap.

Unfortunately, the workplace isn’t much better, especially in Silicon Valley. When was the last time you interacted with someone over 60 or 70 in the office? For some of you, I would bet that you never have.

Expand your network with some people who are much older than you are. It is good for them, and great for you. I’ve learned so much from my friends who are farther along life’s path. The wisdom that comes with age is a very real phenomenon. And, people truly do get happier as they live longer.

Get serious about taking care of yourself, just as you would do with anything else you care about (e.g., your home, car, laptop). Don’t feel like you have to act stereotypically “older” just because you are no longer young. Your best years are still ahead of you, as long as you intentionally plan to make them that way.

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