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The First Steps to Positive Aging

How many of us are aging, and how many of us are growing old? There is a difference.

Aging can be a wondrous journey depending on your mindset. If you get anxious about physical decline and death, it will drive you mad and you will grow old quickly. As far as I know, we can’t turn back the clock; time and aging are inevitable. With the right approach, aging can be an adventure to treasure.

My first lesson about aging came from a wise but very wet elderly man. I was seated comfortably in the lobby of my parents’ senior living facility waiting for a rainstorm to subside. I watched as a dark sky hurdled sheets of rain onto the ground and against the window beside me, and then I saw an aged man with a walker drenched by the rain, moving unhurriedly towards the front entrance. I rushed outside and opened my umbrella above his head to shield him from the rain. He grimaced and said, “Get that umbrella away from me; let me be!” I backed away and retreated into the building. Minutes later, the elderly man approached me and said, “Son, I appreciate your act of kindness but the rain against my skin felt wonderful to me. At my age, they are tears of joy.”

What a revelation about growing old— life is too short not to appreciate every moment. That man had learned a valuable lesson: don’t get hung up on having to use a walker to get around when you can enjoy raindrops caressing your body. Aging is a magnificent reality if you appreciate every moment in life, have a positive attitude, and learn to adapt to physical and mental decline. Don’t dwell on the marks of aging— if your knees break, use a walker; if your ears break, use a hearing aid. This is your encore, make the best of it.

I learned this the hard way during my two years battling cancer. In my case, if you have cancer and survive, savor your life. Staying alive is a wonderful concept but embracing life is a better one.

Parents and educators teach children how to be firemen, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and construction workers but they don’t teach us how to be 70, 80 or 90 years old. No one teaches us how to deal with life-threatening diseases and to a lesser extent, wrinkles, failing eyesight, deteriorating mobility, and memory loss. Most of us don’t learn how to deal with the anxiety and depression that sometimes accompanies aging. Over 6.5 million senior citizens in America are diagnosed with some form of depression. Should depression be part of growing old?

Aging is a lifelong process and physical and mental decline occurs all throughout the lifespan. With the right attitude (e.g., a healthy spirit), aging can bring about much joy and many rewards. Getting older is not all doom and gloom. As individuals, we possess varying levels of physical, mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses. The objective is to follow a road map for aging and make adjustments in your life, so you can better cope with life-threatening disease as well as changes to your appearance, bodily functions and mental health.

During my battle with cancer (I had stage 3 esophageal cancer), I discovered a number of activities and practices that helped me immensely. They are building blocks for a foundation for successful and positive aging.

-- Tap your spirit (the power of me)

-- Mindfulness

-- Positivity

-- Four A’s (Accept; Adapt; Appreciate; Attitude)

-- Social support (the power of us)

-- Balancing

Positive aging is adopting a positive mindset of aging as a natural way of life. Positive aging includes all the other beneficial things someone does because they are in a positive frame of mind such as exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, social interaction, living in the present, and strengthening your spiritual side. Practice positive aging and you will be more proactive about health, more resilient to illness, less stressed, more in touch with your spiritual side, more energetic, and more joyful.

I will present each of the building blocks in future blog posts. Stay tuned.

David Lereah, PhD, author of The Power of Positive Aging.

Follow the Positive Aging Zone on Twitter: @PAZone3

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