As someone who has arrived in her second half of life, and who has been watching my patients walk into my office for the last 2 decades, I have observed a few things that I’m sure you may recognize. People can be 45 or 55 or 70 and look years or even decades younger than you expect. And in other cases, people can look years or decades older than you expect.
A number of years ago, I lost a 45-year-old mom in her sleep to the ravages of “aging”— brought on by heroin, cigarettes, and decades of severe depression. My mentor, Gladys McGarey, the mother of holistic medicine in the U.S., is 95 — and still lecturing at national conferences and lobbying congress, as determined and mentally sharp as she was at 50.
So, okay, we know what category we want to be in!! How do we do it?
In my book BodyWise, I teach the steps to being body intelligent — developing within yourself a deep navigational ability to make the choices that will allow you to live a life your body loves.
The men and women in my practice who live with joy, passion, and freedom late into their lives all have body intelligence. They make choices that align with their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, regardless of whatever difficult circumstances they may face. In fact, many of the most resilient and able people I am privileged to know have gone through terrible ordeals — in the form of loss, betrayal, or unexpected cancer or other illness.
It is not their circumstances that define their joy, health, and passion, but their response to their circumstances — their body’s navigational ability to steer them through troubled waters with grace and kindness. And their persistent ability to make choices that allow their body to be resilient and regenerative.
These bodywise folks also consistently make choices in key areas of their life that allow them to thrive. The fundamentals of health: Movement and play, Sleep, Healthy Eating, Love and Community, and Purpose—are the key elements that thriving men and women prioritize and make smart choices about. The result is a life filled with joy, passion, vitality, and a deep sense of rightness that is an honor to witness.
Here are a few tips to help you thrive with passion in your own life — at any age
Movement and Play:
One of my mentors in medical school, Alan Steinbach, always said that aging was becoming more stiff and inflexible in one’s body, and in one’s mind — and the two are linked. As medical students, we were learning about the “hardening of the arteries” that causes heart attacks and strokes. But Alan also discussed the “hardening of the categories” that often accompanied this. Resistance to physical challenges and to shifts in routine, as well as resistance to changes in thinking or point of view, are among the hallmarks of typical aging. But none of this is essential to aging.
When we engage in physical movements that keep us flexible and strong, and especially if those activities are FUN (think dancing, sports, or hiking in the woods with your best friend), we maintain our youthful verve; our sense of fun and adventure. And we avoid the hardening of the arteries AND the hardening of the categories.
Some suggestions here: Learn a new sport or exercise routine, or pick up one from your youth again — this has amazing energy giving properties as you feel like your younger self when you do it. Think yoga, dance class, cycling, tennis, hiking, tai chi, qi gong, continuum, five rhythms dance, or a course in sexuality — something that gives you both exercise and fun, and that will keep you feeling passionate.
Ahhhhhh, the restful way to stay passionate and full of zest. Sleep may be the most important key to maintaining your vitality, and even your good mood as you get older.
Sleep is anti-inflammatory, decreasing pain and reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. And good sleep improves mood, concentration, and memory (hello…who doesn’t need help with that?!). It is true that some of us need less sleep as we get older, but use your body intelligence here. Do you wake naturally, without an alarm in the morning, feeling rested and ready for your day, even without caffeine? Yes? You’re getting enough sleep. No? We probably need to work on it. And naps, by the way, are a good idea for ALL humans, as we have a natural energy dip in the afternoon. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, I have an entire chapter devoted to natural ways to encourage deep restful sleep in BodyWise.
If you are reading this blog, you are probably already hip to the enormous benefits of eating smart. In John Robbins’ book, Healthy at 100 (which I would HIGHLY recommend), he describes the diet (and lifestyle) that allows centenarians to remain healthy and active all over the world.
It includes — no surprise — a large amount of pesticide and herbicide free fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (seeds, avocados, nuts, and olives), legumes, and sometimes a small amount of high-quality animal protein, such as organic pasture-raised eggs or wild fish.
This is a basic guide, and each of us needs different amounts of each of these at different times of our life. Using your body intelligence to sense what your body needs for optimal nourishment at this moment, can help you feed your body just what it wants to thrive.
Love and Community:
Loneliness will kill you faster than cigarettes. For real. According to Dean Ornish, MD, loneliness and isolation increase your risk of death by 200-500% — independent of any behavioral choices you make. Knowing this as a doctor, I often prescribe dates, pets, or social group opportunities with my prescription pad.
ALL love and community are important to our health and happiness, whether it’s a social group you go bird watching with, or singing in your local choir, or having an extended family nearby. Romantic love is lovely, and yes, healthy (when it’s good!), but friendship, family, and affection of all kinds keeps our hearts strong.
There is even a significant health benefit from having an affectionate pet. So no matter what your personal circumstance, you can find avenues for connection and affection that calm your adrenal response and make your cells sing. Humans are pack animals. Be sure you have a pack in your life.
Having purpose is our answer to the question, “Why are you here?” It can be simple, such as “I am caretaking this beloved aging dog”, or more broad, such as serving a community that you are a part of, or even larger, such as “I am looking to shift our food production system and food economy in my lifetime” (Hello, Ocean and John Robbins).
Having a sense of purpose, even if it is not grand, significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from all causes. In people 55 years and older, volunteering reduced the risk of early death by 44 percent. And having a sense of purpose in the last half of life reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by two and a half times!
Spending some time contemplating how you can be of service in your work — creativity or volunteering may just save your life. Each of us has a unique something that we can contribute — and that contribution is good for the world and equally good for us!
When we use our deep body wisdom to guide us in the particular and ever-changing ways that we need to move and play, sleep, eat, love, and find purpose, we find our own “fountain of youth” that makes us the vibrant, resilient, flexible, loving people we want to be, and the world needs us to be, in the generative second half of life. Many blessings on your beautiful path to passion and purpose.
Want to learn to heal through listening to your body’s own intelligence?
Rachel Abrams, MD, will be speaking in the 2017 Food Revolution Summit. She and 23 of the world’s top food and health experts are sharing their latest, breaking insights about food, health, and the future of life on Earth.