Tips to Live By

We're Not Cheese or Wine — Nothing (Physically) Gets Better As We Age, but I Found a Silver Lining!

May 3, 2023

By Stefanie Asin

Last month I turned 59. And some days I feel every bit of that number.

Those days make me think of a game my husband and I play when we go on long hikes. Is there anything — one single thing — that gets better with age, physically? We both feel that plenty gets better mentally and emotionally, but throughout a 10-mile hike, we can never (ever!) name ONE thing that improves physically as the years pile up.

I took this "game" to the next level and asked many of my friends and coworkers if they can name one thing. They tried hard. Only one person came up with something: A female friend suggested less hair on our legs. Not sure that should really count.

It was time to go to the experts.

"I hate to agree with you because it might be depressing, but I also cannot think of one thing that really gets better with age physically," says Dr. Joshua Septimus, a primary-care physician at Houston Methodist. "But the good news is we can actively do things to slow down the decay. It may not stop aging, but we can slow it down!"

Septimus says by exercising regularly and eating non-processed foods, thus eating less sugar, we can delay the physical effects of aging. He says a key is the two "I"s — inflammation and insulin.

(Related: 5 Types of Foods That Cause Inflammation)

Exercising, with an emphasis on weight training, will keep your body bones strong and your weight down (good for insulin levels).

The bottom line: As you age, insulin and inflammation must be kept down. That's the secret to better long-term health.

(Related: 7 Reasons to Stop Type 2 Diabetes in Its Tracks)

Despite the physical ravages of aging, the great news is that for most of us, our mental and emotional well-being can improve over time. Though some people struggle mentally as they age, many of us find ourselves thriving with a new sense of confidence. Look what we have survived!

Speaking for myself, I find this to be a time of serenity. Less stress over children, money and career. More time to do things I want to do and less time worrying about what others think. A calmness about how crazy the world is now. And being at the end of a career is in many ways better than being at the beginning.

I asked an expert about my theory.

"If seniors have navigated their lives well, they are likely more accepting of the various aspects of themselves, like their identity, personality, personal limitations, vocation, relationships," says Dr. William Orme, a clinical psychologist at Houston Methodist. "With more acceptance, there would be less striving toward self-enhancing or egoistic pursuits, which would make for a calmer, more grounded and balanced approach to life — something that is elusive to the 20- and 30-somethings when they are trying to make their way in life and testing how much of an impact they can have."

Orme says if someone has done well in life, there seems like there would also be a sense of satisfaction and healthy self-esteem from the positive relationships and meaningful contributions made at work or home over the years.

My own tip, personal rather than professional: if you don't have younger and older friends as you age, cultivate them. The younger friends push you physically and teach you what's currently cool, saving you some embarrassment with your kids and other young people. The older friends are more forgiving, and calmer when you find yourself spinning about how everything is going downhill physically!

So really what I am trying to say is maybe we should worry less about what we cannot control as we age, and instead enjoy the actual benefits of aging. This is something younger people can look forward to … even as everything starts to hurt.

Asin is director of communications, public relations & creative services at Houston Methodist

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Categories: Tips to Live By