Zoom fatigue and doom-scrolling during the COVID-19 pandemic have made us collectively feel like we’ve aged a decade, even though it really hasn’t been that long. You may have experienced dark under-eye circles, creaky joints, hair loss, and a faltering memory, which are all signs of stress taking its physical toll. Indeed, the link between chronic stress and accelerated aging is well-documented. While our bodies’ stress response often acts as an adaptive mechanism to fight threats for a short period of time, chronic stress becomes destructive. We’re not great at enduring long-term stress, and this accelerates the science of aging.
This phenomenon of accelerated aging isn’t something we appreciate as a culture, considering we do our level-best to stay forever young. We’re always hoping to stop the clock on the biological science of aging — but is there actually something wrong with how our bodies naturally change? In this article, we’ll take a look at the phenomenon of aging: why we’re so afraid of it, what actually happens to our bodies as we grow older, and how we can age joyfully.
Our Collective Problem with Aging
There are many people who have FOGO, or the Fear of Getting Old. Some are scared the science of aging because they’re dreading the decline in their physical abilities. Others fear memory loss, chronic illness, or even the financial strains that come with retirement. In our culture, we think that older people are frail or dependent. They’re a burden to society, considered disposable even, as they draw close to late-life stages. Marketing and advertising reinforce these concepts, promoting negative messages about aging. We’re told that wrinkles are ugly, that old people are pathetic. No wonder we’re all driven to pursue eternal youth and beauty.
However, these are mostly myths. There is no typical older person; some 80-year-olds have similar physical and mental capacities to people in their 30s, while younger adults decline at a much faster pace. This diversity is often ignored, and ageist attitudes lead to poorer health, social isolation, and reduced quality of life. Age determines who receives certain medical procedures or treatments. Workplace stereotypes leave older adults at a disadvantage, as their age limits access to specialized training and education.
Our collective shudder towards aging is at odds with the idea of longevity as a sign of human progress. In history, few people could dream of living past their 60s and 70s. Now that we’re living longer than ever, we’re being shamed for it. Aging isn’t a problem to be fixed, nor is it a disease to be cured. It’s an inevitable, lifelong process that unites all human beings.
The Body as it Grows Older
Part of why ageist ideas persist is due to the fact that the science of aging remains a mystery despite our best efforts. Aging is the most familiar physiological phenomenon to us, but it unfolds in a complex way, which is why there are hundreds of theories about it. We don’t even know exactly why aging happens, but we have a good idea of how it occurs.
We age due to a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. As our bodies’ cells get older and accumulate damage over time, they lose their ability to function properly. Coupled with extrinsic factors in our lifestyle and surroundings like malnutrition, air pollution, tobacco smoke, alcohol consumption, or UV exposure, our cells are further damaged. Although we all experience these things, the form varies from person to person, so we age in different ways. Aging doesn’t occur in a consistent or linear way, and is only loosely associated with a person’s age in years.
Aging isn’t a terrible thing either. Contrary to popular belief, most older people tend to be healthier and happier than most people. They have a positive outlook towards life, and are content in their relationships. Their psychological abilities like gratitude, conflict-resolutions, and forgiveness increase — which may be why we consider the elderly to be wise. Older people also experienced greater emotional well-being compared to younger and middle-aged adults during the pandemic. They felt less stressed and showed remarkable emotional resilience. All this goes to show that aging isn’t necessarily a downhill journey.
Aging Gracefully: 5 Care Tips to Follow
Having a long life provides us with the opportunities to do things we couldn’t do when we were younger. Aging gracefully doesn’t necessarily mean staying wrinkle-free (although it can be, if you want!). Rather, it means living your life to the fullest and enjoying every minute, instead of fretting over your age. Here are five care tips to follow:
Take care of your body: Counter fears of physical decline by adopting healthy habits. Have a healthy diet, and get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Exercise at least 150 minutes per week. We may not live forever, but at least we’ll reduce the chance of getting chronic health problems as we age.
Maintain your skin: Our skin becomes thinner and more fragile as we age, so it’s important to pay attention to skincare. Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated, slather on sunscreen when you go out, and invest in an anti-aging skincare routine to define facial contours, minimize pores, and smoothen out lines. By caring for your skin early on, you can keep it moist and supple.
Sharpen your mind: Your memory and mental processes can stay young if you keep up-to-date with the latest information. Read a lot, play stimulating games, and attend cultural events or social activities if you can.
Build meaningful relationships: Growing older can often seem lonely, but not if you maintain your social connections. Do reach out to old friends, and make new friends with people of all ages. Challenge yourself to use the latest technologies effectively, so you don’t feel disempowered.
Do what makes you happy: One good mental health practice is to reward yourself by doing things you enjoy. Celebrate your accomplishments, try new hobbies, or refresh your style. There’s no such thing as age-appropriate happiness, after all.