What does it mean to age gracefully? Why does aging happen and how can we keep the process in check, or allow it to unfold slowly over many years with grace and ease? How do we go about doing this? What does it look like? Here we will look more closely at the process of aging, what it is and what it means.
Aging, just as death, is a process of life that will happen to all living things blessed enough to enjoy the entire life cycle. It is something many of us fear, and some of us dread. We tend not to think about growing old or even acknowledge it even as we feel it happening to us. We watch our grandparents, parents, relatives and family friends age, usually avoiding the thought of this becoming a part of our own life cycle. Aging is defined by the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health as “the gradual changes in the structure of any organism that occur with the passage of time, that do not result from disease or other gross accidents, and that eventually lead to the increased probability of death as the individual grows older” (7th edition, 2003, Saunders).Biologists talk about aging as an age dependent and age progressive decline in intrinsic physiological function leading to increased mortality and decrease reproductive rates. Aging is an unavoidable process determined by genetics and influenced by environmental factors, such as lifestyle, diet and physical activity level, social and mental stimulation.
As aging is clearly a part of the process of life, how do we do it gracefully? How do we avoid the pain and suffering caused by chronic health issues that are so frequently associated with advanced age? How do we maintain our strength, flexibility, and fluidity in both movement and thought? Many chronic health issues that lead to pain and suffering are a direct result of the level of progressive decline in function that is experienced by the individual. It just so happens that there is much we can do to support the body through life’s process of aging, and the earlier we begin to think of this and do something about it, the more ease we will have in aging with grace. Even though most of us wait until the process has been well underway before we take notice, there is still a great deal that we can do to support the physiologic processes of the body throughout our lifespan.
There are now so many anti-aging businesses and programs that we are bombarded with information about how to stay young. Much of what is being touted comes in the form of pills, supplements, creams, lotions and even surgeries. All of these undertakings seem to be quite expensive. Information about watching one’s diet and getting proper nourishment, abandoning reckless and harmful habits, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of exercise and sufficient rest can be found all over the internet and is woven into the fabric of modern society. There are too many different anti-aging programs and products, and theories and methods of manipulating biochemistry to go into here. I would, however, recommend that you conduct your own research, or even consult a reliable and knowledgeable holistic health practitioner if you feel overwhelmed with information, or desire to begin your own anti-aging program. Here, we offer some ideas about how we can go through the unavoidable process of aging, gracefully. None of these suggestions will cost you any money, and all of them will bring you blessings. The only thing you will need is the ability to make a conscious choice and then put it into practice.
You may have heard it said that we begin aging from the moment of our birth. On a cellular level, there is a certain amount of truth to this idea; cells age and die off from the time we are born. But up to a certain age, the physiological processes of healthy individuals create new cells more rapidly than they die off, so the visible signs of the aging process do not become apparent until after an organism reaches maturity. It is only after we are fully grown and mature that we begin to age. By the time the body reaches 50 years of age, the rate of cell destruction has sufficiently surpassed the rate of cell production that changes are seen and felt in the physical body. Most people are able to notice some effects of aging by the time they reach their 42nd birthday. Regardless of what stage you find yourself in life today, you can start to age gracefully by following a few simple guidelines, and using the acronym GRACE as a mnemonic device.
GRATITUDE – adopting an attitude of gratitude from this moment on will help enormously with the process of aging gracefully. Practicing gratitude alleviates depression, anxiety, stress, worry, and fatigue. Being grateful allows us to enter a space of peace and calm that enables the body to carry out intrinsic physiologic process more efficiently.
REFLECTION – reflection not only helps us learn how to maneuver through life, it provides the much needed quiet honesty for the body, mind and spirit to function optimally. If we stay aggravated, irritated, afraid, sad, ashamed, or if we are anxious in our thoughts, intrinsic physiologic processes are impeded and the aging process accelerates. Taking the time to reflect on the day, week, month, year, a conversation or situation requires a moment of rest and relaxation. Reflection takes time, time during which the body and mind can relax and focus, allowing us to move away from anxious thoughts and giving the body permission to regenerate.
ACCEPTANCE – recognizing what is, relaxing into the flow, surrendering to the moment are all acts of acceptance. When we can do this instead of resisting what is, we experience ease. This does not mean giving up, it simply means letting go of what we have no control over, and taking responsibility for what we do have control over. Living from this place greatly reduces the level of stress and subsequent stress responses and reactions the body experiences. Once again, this frees up energy to allow physiologic processes to function optimally.
COMPASSION – treating the body with goodness and kindness, nourishing body, mind and spirit through choices that show compassion to you and others is a great way to increase happiness and health. It is proven that people who live a life of service to others have higher immune markers than those who live selfishly. Nourishing the body, mind and spirit with food, light, water, relationships, appropriate exercise, and rest shows compassion for your own self. By first offering compassion to yourself, showing compassion for others becomes more fulfilling and effortless. Love is our natural state, practicing compassion brings us into that natural state and makes it much easier for the body, mind and spirit to maintain congruency and health.
ELEGANCE – by practicing the 4 guidelines listed above, one will exude elegance, grace, discernment, and beauty. We will experience graceful aging from the inside. Living to an old age while maintaining the functionality of our youth is what we all hope for, practicing GRACE will only help us realize this goal.