Refuse to shrivel up and die. That became my personal mantra after my youngest child moved away from home. Shrivel up means “to wither; make or become helpless or useless.” To die is to stop living, which is not necessarily synonymous with to stop breathing.
I first observed women shriveling up and dying when I was raising my children. I was a member of several rock clubs where most of the women were retired geologists who had raised children while navigating their careers. As they grew older, they didn’t focus on their health back, and due to their retirement their engagement in life slowed. I watched several ultimately die from an injury or illness they never seemed to recover from that occurred as young as in their early 60s. That’s when I vowed that would not be me.
As the age began showing, I added a mantra: I may be fat, I may be ugly, but I don’t look old. Not loo3king one’s age is a combination of genetics, putting quality fuel (food) in your body, maintaining muscle mass, and leveraging advances in medical aesthetics. Quality fuel means lots of fresh produce, along with some lean meats, nuts, and minimally processed dairy products. This requires a significant commitment to shopping and meal preparation.
Quality fuel also means well-selected supplements. The reason is two-fold. First, our food does not have the nutritional quality it did just 40 years ago. Crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than what is available in grocery stores today. One of the causes is due to soil depletion. Other causes are farming methods and the prevalence of cultivating high-yield, less nutritious varieties. Secondly, as we age, the ability of our bodies to absorb nutrients declines, mostly due age-related to digestive system deterioration, which means a need for greater intake of some nutrients.
Supplements, which includes vitamins, minerals, and herbs, are drugs. I am routinely mortified when people get sick and/or waste a lot of money because they don’t understand that fact. Overdosing on vitamin B6 can lead to nerve toxicity. Overdosing on vitamin B3 can lead to nausea, jaundice, and liver toxicity. Overdosing on vitamin A can cause brittle bones. Magnesium, an essential nutrient, is very poorly absorbed if it is consumed as magnesium oxide. Magnesium oxide is cheaper, and therefore more frequently used in multi-vitamin formulations. So providing quality fuel means time researching supplements to determine what is needed and at what does.
Maintaining muscle mass is critical to good health. Loss of muscle mass quickly leads to disease and physical frailty. There are two big challenges to keeping muscle mass. The first is discipline and making time. The second is that at age 60 we can’t do the same workout as we did at age 30 without ending up with overuse injuries. Keeping muscle mass requires engaging in regular exercise, and having regular exercise that is more fun than discipline is a big key to success. In 2004 I landed in martial arts, and I regularly hold my own grappling with men in their prime. On a good day, I was able to pin my opponent’s head on the mat and give him a noogie. What fun!!!
I leverage anti-aging medical aesthetics that don’t include scalpels. Somehow the risk of surgery just seems excessive for cosmetic results. I got hooked on Botox in 2007, and my skin loves laser treatments. I use an LED red light use less frequently than I should at home, which is great for cellular regeneration. I make my own serums and moisturizers because most commercial products have one or more terrible ingredients. Searching out ingredients and formulating my products is another “refuse to shrivel up and die” time commitment.
Providing good fuel so the body has building blocks to heal and maintain itself, engaging in sports activities to maintain muscle mass, and leveraging anti-aging medical aesthetics is only the icing on the cake. The cake is staying engaged in life. Early retirement, which usually means disengagement, is well known as the “kiss of death”.
I worked in a palliative care unit every Sunday morning for about three years as a hospice volunteer. During that time, I saw a surprising number of people who had been dead in their lives for many years and had just been waiting for their bodies to die. Many of them didn’t seem understand that engaging in life is about having a purpose that is founded in making a difference. A purpose provides meaning, and meaning is the foundation of a fulfilling life.
Refusing to shrivel up and die means a tremendous time and resource investment that is founded in a personal commitment. There are days when it’s easier, like when I see an elderly woman hunched over a walker in the grocery store. Some days it’s harder, like when every muscle in my body aches or I feel like I’m spinning my wheels because there aren’t enough hours in the day. You can say it’s a choice, but at the end of the day, the alternative is to shrivel up and die.