How Old Are You, Really?

Remember when you turned five and you held up your hand to tell people “how many” you were? Today we don't have enough fingers to hold up. We don't talk about our age — or our birthdays.

Sometimes people describe their age with an “organ recital”; they tell you what hurts, how much it hurts, and how it restricts their activity. If we used physical status to define age, you could be twenty with the physical age of a forty-year-old OR forty with the physical age of a twenty-year-old.

How old would you feel if you’d never seen your birth certificate?

What if age were not a chronological number, but rather a stage in life?

Everyone ages differently. Some eighty-year-olds drool, and some run marathons. Which eighty-year-old do you want to be? The late genius, Gene Cohen, MD, explained that we age in "phases," like developmental stages. The problem is that after age seventy, each stage has less definition. It becomes “managing loss in the face of adversity.” Hmm … but for twenty or thirty more years?

I think of aging in stages as defined by your life experiences at any given moment. Talking about our stage is a perfect way to connect with people and reveal how unique we are. It helps us share more of ourselves — our personal relationship with life. For example, if an ager says they are seventy-five, most people think of who they know who is seventy-five. A young person may think of their grandmother who is seventy-five and assume you make cookies and bounce children on your lap. If you say you are seventy-five to an octogenarian, on the other hand, they think you are a sprout and still finding your way in life.

What if instead of saying a number, describe your stage in life — what are your major accomplishments at the time? Celebrating the marriage of a grandchild? Going on a vacation with your son and his family? Taking your daughter for chemo? Going to your great granddaughter's kindergarten graduation? Telling your story rather than your age welcomes others into your life and invites them to open up, share a dialogue, create new outcomes. When stories unfold about experiences, conversation becomes mutually engaging. But numbers limit dialogue and enable stereotypes. A number puts you into an age group that may not be reflective of your life stage.

Keep growing and age fearlessly

Fearless Aging is about allowing you to personalize your later years, to spark growth, and pursue a dream. Knowledge and wisdom are a part of aging. And the more the brain is challenged, the more flexible it becomes; the more it is used, the better its efficiency. Older brains tend to use both hemispheres as they stretch to solve new challenges and answer new questions. Processing the same routine and information daily is not challenging and gives the brain permission to slack, meaning it may not be in top form when you need it! Think of the brain as wanting to grow and, the more curiosity you nurture it with, the more involved it becomes in your well-being.

Here are just a few ways to keep your brain functioning and your life active, so you can maintain the stage —not the age — you feel you are:

1. Physical exercise — especially aerobics that use large muscle groups, like walking or dancing

2. Mental exercise — the brain is a muscle that gets flabby with little use, so feed your curious mind

3. Challenging activities — read a new book, discuss it with a group, or describe it to a friend

4. Being engaged — socially that is. Use the brain in growthful ways. Meet someone new every week and learn about their current stage!

Fearless Aging is moving beyond myths, ageism, stereotypes, and limiting beliefs. It is about unleashing potential for fun, flexibility, and fulfillment. Each of us has this potential and can chose to grow for the rest of our lives.

Wanna get fearless? Sign up for the next workshop and get started!