Physical decline may be inevitable but there’s plenty you can do to stay vital and healthy
In 2002, I turned 60. To help celebrate the occasion, friends organized a surprise party for me. After the festivities, I took some time to reflect, and I came to an uncomfortable conclusion: I am closer to a time when my energy and powers will diminish, when I will lose my independence. Sixty is about the time that organs of the body begin gradually to fail, when the first hints of age-related disease begin to appear.
I hardly notice my aging on a day-to-day basis. When I look in the mirror in the morning, my face and white beard seem the same as the day before. But in photographs of myself from the 1970s, my beard is completely black. Looking at old photographs, I can’t help but notice the physical change that has taken place in the course of 30 years.
If I pay attention, I can notice other changes in my body: more aches and pains, less resilience in meeting the challenges of travelling, less vigour on occasion. And my memory may not be quite what it used to be. At the same time, despite the evidence, some part of me feels unchanged—in fact feels the same as when I was 6. Almost everyone I talk to about aging reports similar experiences.
The hard fact is that aging will bring unpleasant changes. Among them are aches and pains; memory deficits; wrinkles; decreases in energy, healing ability, sensory acuity, muscle tone, bone density and sexual energy; increased reliance on doctors and pills; loss of beauty, friends, family, and independence and social isolation. We can mask the outward signs of the process and try to keep up old routines in spite of it, but we cannot change the fact that we are all moving toward physical decline and death. The best we can do—and it is a lot—is to accept this inevitability and try to adapt to it by maintaining ourselves in the best health we can at any age. To my mind the denial of aging and the attempt to fight it are counterproductive—a failure to understand and accept an important aspect of our life experience. That attitude is a major obstacle to aging gracefully. To age gracefully means to let nature take its course while doing everything in our power to delay the onset of age-related disease. Or, in other words, to live as long and as well as possible, then have a rapid decline at the end of life.
Adapted with kind permission from Andrew Weil’s book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
Andrew Weil is a professor of integral medicine at the University of Arizona and the author of many books on health. More information: www.drweil.com