Being a part of the Stanford Center of Longevity this past quarter, I have broadened my horizons and become more open-minded when it comes to aging. There are so many different perceptions of it, especially throughout each generation. When speaking with my mother, age 56, about what I have been learning, there was some hesitation when I told her “aging shouldn’t be something that you dread” and “aging can be looked at in a positive way.” She looked at me like I was crazy. But the Stanford Center of Longevity tries to change those negative mindsets, and gives people tools in order to maximize this large chunk of life.
I keep putting old in quotations because I feel that there are so many different ideas of what it is and what it looks like.
I asked my mother when she viewed herself as aging; she expressed that around age 40 she could begin to see the “aging process” taking place. She was under a lot of stress; she has just gotten laid off from her job, and our family was in the process of moving into a new house. This stress resulted in a bad case of shingles, which she considered to be something “only old people get.” After hearing this, I decided to ask some of my nuclear family what they thought about aging. When asking my father when he thought he was aging, he stuck with, “April 17, 1997,” which was the birth of his third child… me. Joking aside, my father would have been about 34 if this were the case of when he began to feel “old” (an amazing landmark if you ask me). I moved on to my 25-year-old sister, asking her an altered form of the question: “At what age do you feel that you will look/feel like you are aging?” She broke it down into both of those aspects, and thought that around age 35 to feel old and about 45 to look old. She averaged that out to age 40 to begin aging.
I couldn’t agree more that this mindset needs to change.
So, using my family as a guide, I will use 40 as the number people feel they are aging and beginning to get “old.” I keep putting old in quotations because I feel that there are so many different ideas of what it is and what it looks like. Someone may feel old at their age, but someone who is older than them may laugh or scold them for thinking it. It is all based on the individual, and others may even disagree with their self-assessment. But, for now, let’s use this age of 40 as the “official” starting point of getting old (I am definitely exaggerating). The average male and female life expectancies, however, are 76 and 81, respectively. This means that people still have almost half of their life left, but they are spending that dreading the aging process! It’s not the most positive outlook on life, and this is, what I have learned, is exactly what the Center of Longevity wants to eliminate. I couldn’t agree more that this mindset needs to change.
Being on the Women’s Basketball Team here at Stanford, I take a certain interest in the Center’s Sightlines Project with physical activity. I believe that exercise is very important all throughout one’s life. As people get older, it gets harder and harder to exercise, whether they are too busy or their body begins to break down. My grandparents are a wonderful example of people finding ways to continue to exercise. In their 80’s, my grandparents went to water aerobics multiple times a week. My grandmother would even ride her stationary bike (which I would call an antique) as much as she could. Because of my grandparents, I am a very firm believer in exercising throughout the lifespan being a huge benefit to one’s life.
My reasoning behind this has come with a personal experience. My grandfather, mentioned above, was diagnosed with colon cancer this past year. The surgery was minimally invasive and was supposed to go smoothly; however, when in recovery, he experienced about every complication that the doctor had mentioned before surgery. I was lucky enough to be home to see him for a couple, short days while on a break from school. But seeing him like that was incredibly alarming, and my family and I were worried he would never make it home again. I would think about how active he was, and it frustrated me that all of this could happen to such an amazing, healthy person. One week he was out playing golf, the next he is in the hospital fighting to stay strong.
There is too much of life left to stop.
I do not get very many breaks to go back home because of basketball, so, unfortunately, I had to leave for school soon after, and I was devastated. I hated leaving him like that because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But I received amazing news that he was accepted into a rehab program that had a great reputation. Once he began this program, his health climbed at an amazing pace. He heavily assisted into the facility when he first got there, but walked himself out as he left, which was only about two weeks later. I couldn’t believe it.
I thought again about how active he was before all this, and then how hard he worked in rehab. I then wasn’t surprised at all; he had been training his body for this for years and years. His body and his mind were up to the challenge of getting better, and with a lot of help from the rehab program, he made an amazing recovery.
Now, coming back to age 40 and aging; there is too much of life left to stop exercising. It can give you a leg up in so many aspects of life, and so many of those have to do with your health. I am so thankful for the health of my family, and really look up to my grandparents for many reasons, but definitely about how active they are. So, the fact that the Stanford Center of Longevity can help others with information about physical activity, and other huge aspects of life, is amazing and useful for everyone. I am very proud to be a small part of it.