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Positive Aging Versus Anti-Aging

Something is terribly off in a nation where growing old is out and staying young is in. An anti-aging culture has consequences. Many older people are ashamed or embarrassed to display marks of aging because they fear being labeled frail and useless. Wrinkles are ugly, wheelchairs represent helplessness, and hearing aids reflect weakness. The cultural belief that aging equals decline and poor health has created self-fulfilling prophecies as seniors surrender to infirmities and sink into depression, believing their usefulness is gone.

Others fight to stay relevant with antiaging products and current fashion. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to appear young if it makes you feel good, raises your confidence, and promotes a healthier lifestyle. The problem comes when you buy into the societal messaging that staying young is superior to growing old.

In today’s forever young society, people are inundated with a barrage of anti-aging propaganda. Social media and advertising are constantly showing us what it means to be young and beautiful. People spend billions of dollars on antiaging creams and surgical procedures to eliminate wrinkles and other facial blemishes because they make you look old. Apps like Photoshop, where people can use filters to reduce wrinkles, have become popular among those who want to look youthful.

An anti-aging mindset fuels false hope, promoting a culture of ageism, in which we consciously dismiss ‘older people’ as lacking the strength and stamina to live meaningful lives in society. Simply put, we live in a culture that sends a loud message—getting older is a bad thing.

Not surprisingly, there is an unintended consequence of anti-aging messaging. An anti-aging mindset sets many of us up to fail when we are faced with the hallmarks of aging.

Every one of us, if we are fortunate enough to have a long shelf life, will find ourselves facing Father Time. There is no slowing life. The marks of aging are inevitable— whether it’s a life-threatening disease like cancer; or a serious condition that lowers the quality of life like arthritis and diabetes; or a mark of physical decline like mobility and hearing loss; or a mark of mental decline memory loss and dementia.

Our ability to effectively cope with physical and mental decline determines quality of life in our twilight years. Aging can be a wondrous journey, but our mindset will determine whether we find joy on this road. If you possess an anti-aging attitude, the odds are you will get anxious about your decline and you will grow old quickly. However, aging can be a magnificent reality if you appreciate every moment in life, pursue a positive attitude, and adapt to and accept physical and mental decline. Don’t dwell on the marks of aging—if your knees break, use a walker, there is no need to be embarrassed. If your ears break, use a hearing aid. This is your encore, make the best of it. Staying young is a wonderful concept, but embracing the reality of life is a better one.

The optimist in me sees an aging revolution underway, led by baby boomers who are reluctantly becoming acquainted with the hallmarks of aging. Boomers aren’t the older adults of their parent’s generation. They are more independent and self-assured, ingredients to challenge cultural norms.

The good news is that there is a trend, albeit a slow moving one, to denounce the term ‘anti-aging’. Outdated phrases like ‘anti-aging’ have been recently banned at some beauty companies, like Conde Nast’s beauty magazine, Allure. But, unfortunately, not all beauty companies. Eliminating anti-aging from our vocabulary is a small step in the right direction and more companies need to move away from this misguided phrase. But we need to go a step further. We need to replace ‘anti-aging’ with a more dynamic notion for aging—positive aging.

Positive aging covers our ability to maintain a positive mindset, stay in the present moment, feel confident about ourselves, keep fit and healthy, and engage fully in life. The benefits of practicing positive aging are plentiful: it enhances physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. And more importantly, people will likely experience greater happiness and joy because they accept the aging experience.

Replacing anti-aging with positive aging is a no brainer. Anti-aging is adopting a mindset of staying young, yearning for the past, holding on to your youth. Positive aging is adopting a positive mindset of aging as a natural way of life. Rather than viewing aging in a negative light as something to be endured, aging is viewed as a positive journey of transition. The greatest gain of practicing positive aging is to improve our overall quality of life as we age. A positive mindset will help you better cope with the onslaught of the marks of aging that you will confront throughout your senior years.

Look how practicing positive aging would alter our notion of aging. Wrinkles would no longer be viewed as ugly; wrinkled faces would be viewed as reflections of life’s experiences that took years to create. With a positive aging mindset, we would look amazing regardless of age. We wouldn’t need a beauty advertisement to tell us to take care of appearance problems where there are no problems. Rather than cringe at the aging process, we would embrace it.

"Do not complain about growing old, it is a privilege denied to many," Mark Twain once mused. His words ring loudly in a positive aging culture.

Preparation is key for taking on the challenge of growing old. The human body is not made to last. Some of us last for a long time (e.g., a century), but not many. Others are less fortunate, they die early due to a disease/illness, a tragic accident, or a massive heart attack. But the rest of us, follow a more predictable journey where preparation is critical. Some health issues literally occur overnight. One day you feel healthy, and the next day you are diagnosed having stage three colon cancer. One day you have a skip in your step, and the next day your knees begin to buckle, forcing you to use a walker. One day, you seem fine, and the next day, you forget to turn the gas oven burner off; you have been diagnosed with early stage of dementia. One day you are living independently, and the next day you are in desperate need of caregiver services.

Are we prepared in any of the above scenarios? Do we have the tools to cope with physical and mental decline? Positive aging offers us the tools. You don’t want to

confront the hallmarks of aging without a toolbox.

In my book, The Power of Positive Aging, I introduce the six building blocks of positive aging: Your inner spirit; Mindfulness; Positivity; the Four A’s (accept, adapt, appreciate; attitude); Social Support; and Balance. These are the tools that fill your toolbox to bolster your mental and emotional capacity to deal with the marks of aging.

Fortunately, many people, especially baby boomers, unknowingly practice positive aging. Mindfulness (living in the present moment) has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the past two decades, as reflected both in the media and in psychotherapy practices, and in the habits and practices of millions of ordinary people. For baby boomers, mindfulness is important because it creates the right mindset for successfully aging. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and Buddhism are all practices consistent with the practice of positive aging and contribute to the spirituality and wisdom of some of today’s aging boomers.

Imagine a culture where getting older is good and an aging physical body is beautiful. Imagine a forever aging society rather than a forever young society. I believe that’s where America is headed. Older people need to feel relevant, respected, and useful if they are to live meaningful lives with dignity. Their lives need to be celebrated, not marginalized.

David Lereah,

President, Positive Aging Zone, PAZ

Our mission is to promote the practice of positive aging to the 55+ population to improve the quality of life and mental well-being of older adults so they can live a more joyous life in their twilight years. Positive Aging Zone is a one-stop shop for products that help you practice positive aging, placing you on the road to a more joyful life.

Positive Aging Zone is the sister organization of the nonprofit, United We Age.

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