By Kathryn White
“Slow down aging!” the headline called to me as I browsed the magazine racks leading to the grocery checkout.
A pulse in my brain instructed my arm to reach for it. But I stopped the action just in time.
“Don’t fall for it,” I said to myself. September is Healthy Aging Month and I’m worried the already lucrative anti-aging industry is going to cash in on us. Again. The line between “healthy aging” and “anti-aging” blurs in my own mind more often than I’d like to admit.
A 2021 study published by Global Industry Analysts Inc. estimated that the worldwide market for anti-aging products would reach $34.2 billion in 2020 ($11.6 billion in the US alone), and $47.8 billion by 2027. That’s just skin and hair products. Imagine what the number would add up to if it factored in exercise and nutrition programs, supplements, and the staggering number of other products and services offering to help us look younger, feel younger, act younger.
So I walked away from the magazine that day, vowing to reflect on what we already have at our disposal to help us maintain or achieve good health as we age. I’m not talking about a drawer full of old face creams. I’m talking about those qualities that grew and developed over time within each of us, through practice and experience.
A gathering over coffee with a group ranging in age from 55 to 101 quickly yielded the first few in my search to name these qualities. Wisdom, patience, perseverance.
“Say more,” I said, pressing for an example.
“Well, I’m in physical therapy for this leg,” one said, pointing. “It’s taking more time than I thought it would. Much more. And it’s hard. But I’m sticking with it. Poco a poco. It’s coming along.”
Life deals seemingly impossible hands from time to time. And as the years go by, these add up. We worked through what at first appeared unworkable, flexing and strengthening muscles we didn’t know we had. Creativity, problem-solving, perspective-taking, listening. Hard things—the gut wrenchingly painful, complex, and unexpected ones—don’t become easier.
We simply have more within reach as we respond to them. We are more adept at using the muscles previous challenges strengthened.
So in honor of Healthy Aging Month, I propose we each take a few minutes to identify one aspect of our health that could use our attention.
Go ahead, pick something. Whether it’s the thing everyone says is easy, but has been nagging at you for a long time (you’ll find many at webmd.com/healthy-aging).
My favorite: drink more water. Or the hardest of the hard things, like the one your doctor stares you in the eyes and talks to you about every time you see her. Or the thing you used to say to yourself every year on Jan. 1, until you gave up and stopped thinking about it.
I hear from friends who are former smokers that quitting was, hands-down, the hardest thing they’ve ever done. I’ve heard from friends who’ve tried to quit smoking that even failing to quit is extremely hard. I don’t know what that one thing will be for you.
The answer might not be easy, and the best ideas one won’t come from a newspaper column. But you know what it is. You know, also, what qualities life’s curveballs and challenges have strengthened in you.
• Creativity, problem-solving
• Perspective-taking, listening
• Making connections, collective action
• Wisdom, patience, perseverance
• Focus, determination
Let’s reach for the ones we need this month— and as the years roll on—to bring greater health to ourselves, and the community.
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