Disrupting the Concept of Aging
David Harry Stewart on the Art of Aging Wisely
David Harry Stewart is a man on a mission to change the way you view aging forever. He’s known as an “Age Disrupter” and he’s making waves in the online world through his website Agei.st with his motto being to “Live Fast and Die Old.” He’s a man who walks the talk with a vibrant personality and more energy than most twenty year old’s will ever know. He has done extensive research on the over 50 demographic and his website is an abundant resource in it’s refreshing perspective on the aging process. He reminds me a great deal of Laird Hamilton who once told me, “I would rather jump off a bridge than play bridge.” David is a force and a role model who has traveled the globe over the past few years interviewing and studying amazing icons over the age of 50. In his words, “We are in an age when being 50 is equal to only being halfway through your life. I’ve interviewed and talked to many people in their 50's, 60's, and 70's who don’t think of aging as some grim reality to be accepted. They have programs in place to take care of their health, to stay engaged with younger people, and to stay modern and current. They are bicycle racing, lifting heavy weights, starting new careers, moving forward in their lives with vitality and power.” I’m delighted to introduce you to David and I dare you not to think differently and begin to embrace the aging process rather than fight it. Welcome, David!
CGO: So many people in our culture have such fear around aging. What has made aging uncool?
DHS: It’s not that aging is uncool, it’s that people living in the current moment are looking at attitudes that were relevant to how people lived 20 to 30 years ago. The media shows us as an obsolete aging paradigm that has nothing to do with our current reality. However, there’s this whole other group of people that are saying ‘No’, who refuse to disempower themselves by refusing to become invisible.
What’s curious is that our culture was not always so youth-deferential. It’s true that physically we decline somewhat, but with proper practices, one can remain highly vital into what was once thought to be advanced age. In 300 BC, when Alexander the Great was marching through Asia, the head of his personal guard was 65 years old and he carried a shield and a sword and was out there fighting. At 65, he was a healthy and hard-working man, and it was just normal.
CGO: That’s a brilliant perspective. What’s your new world view of aging?
DHS: For the first time in human history we have a new group of people roughly between 50 and 70. These people are different than they were 20 years ago. This is the first group to have spent their entire lifetimes exercising, having a proper diet, and a healthier lifestyle. At 55, they are really at the midpoint of their lives. They expect to live longer and expect to be functional longer. This changes the way they behave, the way they see themselves in the future, and the way they consume things. We have this group between 50 and 70 that’s unlike anything before them, but the media and the rest of the culture hasn’t really caught up to it.
CGO: Your perspective around health and wellness is quite refreshing. Why do you say food is not what you think it is?
DHS: Let me be clear that I love food. I love to eat, but the thing is you need to make a value judgment anytime you eat something — the good aspects and bad aspects. Something may taste good and you may enjoy it, but there may be a negative effect on your body. You have to add up these positives and negatives and make a decision on whether that’s something you really want to eat. The main thing that I pay attention to is the glycemic load. This is different than the glycemic index. A blueberry has a very high glycemic index, but if you eat just one of them it’s very low glycemic load. The reason it’s important to pay attention to this is that when you eat something that’s sweet, unless you’re going to go out and run 5 miles, your body quickly converts the extra glucose to fat. I’m speaking for myself here. I don’t mean to give specific dietary advice because I think everyone’s body is different and you have to learn what works best for you. But speaking for myself I eat a lot of fat: avocados, nuts, olive oil, and things like that. I find this stabilizes my blood sugar level and causes me to want to eat less. You want to keep your calorie count at about same but what I do try for is 50% calories from fat, 30% to 40% for protein and the rest from carbohydrates.
CGO: You’re quite the role model when it comes to staying fit. Why is exercise so important as we get older?
DHS: To move is to live. Human beings were designed to work hard. I have watched people gardening, and it’s really hard work. They are shoveling, and they’re digging. What I’m saying is you need to challenge your body in some way all the time, maybe in the gym, maybe in some other way. If you don’t want your bones to get brittle, you need to apply a load to your muscles, tendons and everything else will get stronger and you will feel better all around. When your body is sturdier you will feel less vulnerable. Strangely enough, just a little thing like feeling strong enough to open a heavy door can make a tremendous psychological difference. You don’t feel like you’re victim to your surroundings anymore
CGO: I love that perspective and find it so true! Why is retirement a bit of a death sentence in your view?
DHS: I suggest you Google retirement plus death. The quickest way to die is to retire. I’v spoken to experts about this, one of them being Dr. Connie Mariano who was White House Medical chief under Bush and Clinton. I asked her why Presidents live so much longer than the average person. She told me they all have a sense of purpose. And they certainly don’t retire. They have this incredibly stressful job, probably the most stressful job on the planet, and they live forever. Look at Carter. People need a sense of purpose and for most people it’s their work. It may also be your family and maybe your community. There’re a lot of other ways to look at this, but the primary one is to have a sense of purpose. Without this we become un-tethered and don’t really do so well.
CGO: Yes, people don’t realize the messages that they are sending that retirement is a death sentence or that when you turn 50, your life is over. Your philosophy is “sticking with what works.” Describe your personal philosophy?
DHS: There are a couple of really great books that I’ve read about people in our age. One is by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, called Life Reimagined. She writes about a certain point in your 50's when you re-calibrate and look back at what works and what doesn’t. One of my favorite business writers, Peter Drucker, says the same thing: stop trying to be good at everything and concentrate on something you are good at. You have a second life now, spend it doing something you excel at.
CGO: Those are great references to help people see a fresh perspective on aging. Why is it so important for us to embrace the way we look, wrinkles and all?
DHS: If you don’t embrace the way you look who will? You are the only person who is like you in the entire world. So embrace yourself! But the reality is if you keep busy with other things like exercising, and having a sense of purpose, questions about wrinkles become inconsequential. Take care of what you have as best you can. Try to look in a way that you feel great about. Wear nice clothes if you like, makeup, Botox or whatever else makes you feel good. It’s really all about how you feel about yourself when you leave the house in the morning.
We’re all about living in the present moment. In this fast paced world we live in, that can be a challenge. What does living in the now and for today mean to you? You never know when it’s all going to end. You might have a certain control over your longevity because you take care of yourself, but the truth is things happen. The time is now. You need to act now. If you’re happy doing what you do now, do twice as much of it. You don’t like something about your current circumstances, change it or try to adjust. Don’t wait.
The founding partner of AGEIST has interviewed hundreds of people over 50. He is often called into brands and companies to consult and speak on how being over 50 today is very different from how it was 20 years ago, and how to incorporate this new paradigm into marketing and company vision. You can find David on Instagram and Facebook.
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You can find Catherine Grace O’Connell at CatherineGraceO.com. She is on Facebook, and Instagram and Twitter as @catherinegraceo. Tune in to Cat & Kaehler: Fiercely Empowering Women of All Ages Through the Lens of Midlife with Catherine and co-host Kathy Kaehler live every Tuesday at 2 PM EST/11 AM PST or download as a podcast on LA TalkRadio. You can find out more about The Fierce 50 Campaign and how you can help us and join the Revolution by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.