Victor Hugo said that forty is the old age of youth, whereas fifty is the youth of old age. Truer words were never spoken, if you ask me. Hoo boy.
Everyone ages, just as everyone eventually dies. But just as you can die early or late, you can age well or badly.
I'm not happy about aging—I'm not sure anyone ever has been—but I certainly am finding it interesting. And here's one fascinating fact about it: it appears that, just like the foundations of a good retirement plan, you can do the most to mitigate the bad effects of aging when you're young.
Of course, just as with finances, your youth is when you're least concerned with aging and least likely to do anything about it. There's one nice difference, however: you can't always do much about your finances when you're young, even if you want to, because young people tend to be low earners and tend to need to put most, or all (or a little bit more than all) of their money toward immediate needs; but the same dearth of opportunity is not the case when it comes to preparing for aging. In fact, a lot of difficult things are much easier if you simply start young.
Some good advice from a variety of sources:
• Get out of breath every day. Every day. You don't have to be a nut about exercise; just get out of breath once a day. However you do it—running to catch a bus, sprinting up a couple of flights of stairs, time on the treadmill, whatever.
• Don't start smoking. The conventional advice is to stop smoking, but that's only triage after disaster. By far the better advice, assuming it's still possible for you, is to never start. Nicotine is the most addictive drug known to science, and stopping smoking is incredibly difficult. Not starting, by contrast, is easy. No matter what you do, just never start.
• Similarly: don't gain weight. Never mind losing weight: it's a lot easier and more effective just not to gain it in the first place. Once you settle on a decent, comfortable, average adult weight for yourself, just set that number in your mind and guard it. Know your target and hew to it. Step on the scale every morning and if you get three or four pounds over your number, cut back on your eating a bit until you're back to your optimum. Make that a habit. It's difficult to lose weight—for anyone—and anyone can have a problem with it. But young people tend to be trimmer than older people. It's just a lot easier to never gain lots of weight than it is to gain it and then have to lose it. (Ask anyone who's lost a lot of weight.) While you're trim and healthy, that's the time to make your stand.
• Strengthen your bones while you're young. I have only the haziest idea how to do this, although I believe it involves calcium supplements. Ask your doctor. (Maybe a gerontologist can step in and contribute some expert input here.) But I've read that weak bones are one of the principal problems of old age, and that it's much easier to work on your bone health when you're young than when you're old.
• Keep your muscles toned.
• Take good care of your teeth and gums. Mitch Hedberg said he knows how hard it is to stop smoking: it's as hard as it is to start flossing. Taking care of your teeth and gums is a pain in the ass, no doubt. But get in the habit.
• Challenge your brain regularly. Do puzzles; study a foreign language, even if you're never going to learn it; memorize three or four poems a year (memorization, it turns out, is a great aid to memory. And memory, like bad bone health, is one of the principal afflictions of aging, even for people who don't suffer from one of the dementias).
• Set regular habits as early as you can. Especially, daily awakening time, which is the key to good sleep hygiene. Sleep cycles are tied to how we're programmed for the mating process (it's natural for teenagers to stay up late and sleep late, and socialize into the night), and it isn't really feasible to set good adult habits until you're well into your twenties. But be thinking about it.
Young people tend to find advice from old people extremely tiresome. That's because when you're young, you think the old are a different category, separate sorts of beings from you. We realize, on the other hand, that we are just you, a ways on down the line. So older people love giving you advice. We just wish you'd pay more attention, is all. We wish we had.
"Open Mike" is a series of maunderings by Yr. Hmbl. Ed. that appear on The Online Photographer on Sundays. I'm going to print this one out and show it to my son, who, all things considered, is doing a really good job in establishing healthy habits—much better than I did at his age.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stephen: "For bones, unless you've been diagnosed with an actual problem involving the relevant hormones, skip the calcium supplements. Unless you like literally pissing money away. Otherwise, as long as you're eating a reasonable diet, you're getting all the calcium you need. Like so many other aspects of growing old well, exercise is the key. Like muscles, bones respond to use. Or, of course, disuse."
Mike Plews: "I'll be 64 in November which does not make me an expert but here goes anyway:
"If you are young, ask someone my age how many friends they have lost to tobacco-related diseases. I started counting and had to stop to have a cry at ten. The list is longer than that but I just didn't want to go on. Did you know that smoking is a major risk factor for blown spinal discs? Tobacco wrecks connective tissue.
"Taking care of your teeth means taking care of your gums too. Gum disease is linked to heart disease.
"Learn about vitamin D. My doctor is very conservative but two years ago he started checking vitamin D levels in all his adult patients. Nearly all, including yours truly, were deficient. It is generally agreed that you can safely take up to 5000IUs of vitamin D a day. It improves bone health and may prevent some cancers. The down side is that one study shows that vitamin D taken along with calcium can increase women's risk of kidney stones. Google Vitamin D and Creighton University for more information than you will ever need on the subject.
"Get your blood pressure checked and if it's high take care of it.
"If possible enter into a long term relationship with a good conservative family practice MD and listen to their advice.
"And finally, when grandpa drops off the twig and you are going through his stuff, keep the Rolleiflex."
Mike replies: I'll add the bits about gums to the post. Given that I have bouts of gingivitis, I should have thought of that.
As for vitamins: About five or six years ago I saw a show about vitamin D deficiency in the wintertime in northern climes, and as they ticked off the symptoms I realized I had them all, in some form. Although none were probative—that is, if one symptom is "increases depression," the fact that you're a bit depressed doesn't mean you can tell you have a deficiency—I decided to go with the aggregate indication, and started taking vitamin D supplements.
Following the show's advice, I tried to inventory all the time I spend outdoors in the sunlight during the day in the winter. The upshot: the only thing I could think of was that my hands and face were exposed to the sun when I walked between the parking lot and the entrance of the grocery store every other day. That was mostly it. That's about forty seconds of very minimal exposure to the sun.
It is the only vitamin that ever really made me feel better. It made a big difference...very noticeable.
Dan Gorman: "Sensible, wise, and well-intended though this all is, my recollection is that blithely ignoring such advice was an integral part of the fun of being young. But then again, my memory ain't what it used to be!"
Steve Rosenblum: "When I first went into practice as a cardiologist I used to get asked fairly regularly to speak to community groups (or radio stations) about the 'latest research in the prevention of cardiac disease.' These folks would ask me questions about the minutia of their lab tests, the latest vitamins, etc.
"I would say that to get the most 'bang for the buck' in the living-longer department, do these things: 1. Wear your seat belt; 2. Don't smoke; 3. Don't drive when you are drunk.
"These days I would add #4: Keep moving—don't sit all day—do some kind of regular exercise. Walking is fine.
"The rest is really just icing on the cake, statistically."
Mike replies: Isn't fly fishing good for you too? :-)
John Robison: "Right you are Mr. Mike. At 25 years old I was 6'2" and 175 lbs, and walked everywhere; six or seven miles was a stroll. Then I got married and settled into a comfortable life...and put on 60 lbs. in three years. That 60 lbs. has mostly followed me right to now, 64 years old. How I would have dearly loved to followed your current advice about weight.
"Never smoked, but I have a feeling overweight is almost as deadly."
Mike replies: When I was 27 I weighed 178 lbs.—and I'm also 6'2". (Well, I was! Now I'm six one and a half.) But the only reason I was so skinny is that I smoked. Between the devil and the deep blue sea....