Is “Old” a Number or a State of Mind?
A few days ago, my sister sent me a story about Susan Lucci. It seems Lucci had posted some of her vacation swimsuit pictures on her Instagram page and they were causing quite a stir. When I saw the beautiful pictures of 71-year-old Lucci, who looked as if she was 45, and read the latest news briefing about her, I was convinced that to be old is a state of mind not a number.
Baby Boomer, Susan Lucci, Redefines Aging
I grew up watching soap operas. And Susan Lucci, who played the infamous antagonist Erica Kane on the daytime soap opera All My Children, was my favorite soap villain. In fact, for forty years, Lucci was that matchless, beautiful, scheming, and conniving vixen. Even when I no longer had time to watch the soaps, I would seek out a glimpse of her during the Emmy awards, where she was sure to be present —having been nominated for an Emmy 19 times before winning in 1999. But besides an Emmy, she has also won my admiration and, perhaps, yours too. Now she is one of my favorite mentors. We all need mentors to guide us as we enter new, unknown territories in our life. So, I have decided to add Susan Lucci to my list of mentors for aging well because Lucci has always been intentional about aging well, choosing not to go under the knife.
Encountering baby boomers like Lucci forces us to rethink our ideas and images of what it means to be old. Clearly, there is no one definition of old, even though we use chronological age to identify a person as old or elderly. The problem with using chronological age is that it does not take into account that people age differently, says Briony Dow, professor at University of Melbourne and the National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The post on Lucci proves this:
“People look at me [at 71] and say, ‘Wow, she doesn’t seem old, but she is old.’ … the reality is if you’re strong, you’re beautiful, no matter what age you are,” quips Lucci.
I think what Lucci is saying is that we can age like wine or we can age like grapes. It’s up to us. Wine tastes better as it ages. Grapes…well, grapes become a different kind of fruit as they age. So if we want to age like wine, we have to be intentional about aging well and do the things that would lead us to age well.
Intentional aging requires us to think of aging according to the way we want to age. If we think of growing old as becoming weak and frail, then we would come to accept stiff joints and constant falls as we grow older. Our situation would worsen when we encounter health professionals who see growing old as the period of biological decline and, therefore, ignore rather than treat easily resolved problems associated with aging, such as pain, depression, anxiety, or problems with continence. On the other hand, if we see growing old as a continuum of life and we continue to stay physically and mentally active, then we are less likely to experience these negative portrayals of aging—forgetful, frail, slow, helpless and sick.
Here is some of what I learned from Susan Lucci’s interview about intentional aging and maintaining a healthy state of mind.
Lucci says she stays active by doing Pilates. Pilates is an exercise regimen that is typically performed on a floor mat or with the use of specialized apparatus. Pilates aims to improve flexibility and stability by strengthening the muscles, especially the torso-stabilizing muscles of the abdomen and lower back (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).
Pilates is very similar to yoga, though each one is different in important ways.
Use Portion Control
Lucci says she practices portion control. Portion control has to do with controlling the amount of food or drink that is consumed. It is a smart way to prevent overeating.
Your protein, such as meats, chicken or fish, should always be a palm of one hand.
Your starchy complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potato or brown rice, should be able to fit into one cupped hand.
Your complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables should be able to fit into two hands cupped together.
Your healthy non-oil fats should be one thumb size (about a tablespoon).
Your oils and butter should be about the tip of your finger (one teaspoon).
Also, you can use portion control plates. Many of these can be bought online.
N.B. These measurements do not apply if you are following a prescribed diet plan, such as the ketogenic diet.
Ditch the Junk Food
Lucci admits that she had to give up some “guilty pleasure.” She also claims, however, that Pilates helped her give up cheeseburgers and French fries. Most of us do want to enjoy some comfort food, but these should be eaten occasionally, as a treat, not every day or night. Exercising helps to stabilize blood sugar levels so that we crave less processed carbohydrates for quick energy.
Cut Back on Carbs
No one says you cannot eat carbohydrates, unless you are on the Atkins or Ketogenic diets, which allow for very few, if any, carbohydrates. Lucci eats very little bread and pasta. That’s because it is easy to overeat on bread and pasta. Additionally, these foods can become problematic for the gut and for those who desire to lose weight because of the way they have been processed. Starchy and processed carbohydrates, in particular bread and pasta, can increase our blood sugar level leading to an increase in the hormone insulin, which regulates the sugar in the blood and signals to the body to store energy in the form of glucose (sugar) in the muscles and liver and fat in the fat cells. These types of carbohydrates should be regarded as treats. When eaten, eat them sparingly, unless running a marathon is on your bucket list.
We don’t have to be a celebrity like Susan Lucci to age as healthily as she is aging. But we do have to be intentional about how we want to grow old. Why is it so important to decide what “old” means to us? It is our idea of old that shapes our experiences as we age. It’s not too late to make the decision to age well. If you are planning to intentionally age well, this bit of information may help you on your journey: nutrition is 80%, genetics is 10%, and physical and mental training is 10%. That means we control 90% of the factors that affect how we age. So let’s try Pilates, yoga or some other regular form of exercise; check our portions to ensure we are not overeating; ditch the junk food or eat only healthy snacks occasionally; and reduce the amount of carbs in our diet. We can control how we grow old by educating ourselves about nutrition and training hard in keeping ourselves physically and mentally fit. Growing old is not a number, it is a state of mind.
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