Senior moments are a myth. Sex in our sunset years is better than ever. Hang around Dr. Christiane Northrup long enough, and you're likely to pick up a brand-new, 100 percent-improved story about getting older. An internationally known authority on women's health and New York Times best-selling author, Northrup once practiced as a board-certified ob-gyn telling women everything that could go wrong with their bodies. Now she turns her focus on everything that can go right. In her book Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being (Hay House, 2015), Northrup offers research, stories, and practical tips on how vital, soulful living can keep us young. One recent midsummer morning, Northrup spoke with me from her home in Maine about defying aging's stigma, cultivating more pleasure, and other essential practices for rebirthing our best selves at any stage of life.
What is the story that our culture is telling us about aging? Is it time to rewrite that story?
It is so time to rewrite that story! The story we're hearing is a disempowering story; it's a shared cultural belief that one can step out of. Aging in this culture is very much based on this demographic idea that after a certain age, things are going to fall apart. By age 50 one should have her first colonoscopy and her first mammogram, depending on whose guidelines you're reading. And when you turn 50 your ski boots have to be adjusted lower because there is this belief that your bones are going to break more easily. Let's just dissect that for a moment: What could possibly happen overnight between age 49 and 50? As if the grim reaper is coming closer and your value as a woman is going away! A friend of mine was a psych resident at the local hospital, and they created what they called a "senior team": If anyone 65 or older walked down the hall, someone would have to go assist them. Now, do you see how this is institutionalized decrepitude?
There is nothing about the age on your driver's license that has to say anything about your state of health. Beliefs are mediated in our minds and bodies via the cell membrane. The cell membrane is the brain of the cell. We know that the environment in which the cell finds itself is what determines how the DNA within the cell gets expressed. That's on the microscopic level. On the macroscopic level, the beliefs that we hold actually determine our experiences in our lives. Many of those beliefs have not been examined; they've been passed down to us as wisdom. So what we have to do, when it comes to getting older, is examine those beliefs critically and see, do they hold water? I like the term from Dr. Mario Martinez, who wrote The MindBody Code: How to Change the Beliefs that Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success (Sounds True, 2014) and is the founder of the Biocognitive Science Institute. He says, "Getting older is inevitable; aging is optional." That is one belief that I think it would be very helpful for people to adapt.
Can you point to any studies in which the adaptation of certain beliefs or social changes impacted health and aging in a positive way?
You can look at some really fun experiments done by Ellen Langer at Harvard; back in '94 she did a very critical one that I have quoted many times; I've even had people do it in my Ageless Goddess group on Facebook. She took a bunch of men aged around 75 to 80 took to an isolated place where the environment was set up so that they were living as though they were in their prime. They put pictures on the wall of them and their families in their prime. They got TV shows from the 50s, magazines from the 50s. Everything about the environment was set up to say, "This is you now." Before they began the study they took pictures of the men and they did measurements that we expect to decline with advancing age—eyesight, hearing, pulmonary function, cardiac output, those kinds of things. Then, after about 10 days, they repeated the tests and they took pictures again. The men looked 10 years younger, their eyesight improved, their hearing improved, pulmonary function improved, blood pressure improved, cardiac output improved. All of the measures that we are certain deteriorate with advancing age actually reversed. Ellen Langer said years later that things happened she did not report. A game of touch football broke out among the men. When they left they carried their own bags; they felt very hale and hearty. But this is the problem: When they got home their families would say things like, "Oh come on, let me help you. You can't carry your bag."