Page 2 of 3
The same thing has been found with studies on the very elderly in nursing homes, people in their 90s. This was a study by William Evans; he went into nursing homes and through weight training really improved the quadriceps strength of the oldest members of the nursing home to the point where they could easily get up at night and go to the bathroom without assistance. But what happened is the staff couldn't handle it. They saw their job as rescuing these "little old people."
How can we take charge of our health at any age?
We need to practice the causes of health. To go back to Dr. Martinez, he did a study of about 500 centenarians from all around world, and he found that they're all the same—all the healthy, vital centenarians practice the same causes of health. One of these is elevated cognition, which is looking for, on purpose, the good things that are happening around you. It's easy to look at the news and bemoan the state of the world. But one of the things that I choose to notice is all the fabulous marriages that people have after the age of 50. The love coach Diana Kirschner writes in Love in 90 Days (Center Street, 2010) that people over 50 are finding love more than any other time in history. Gina Ogden's work shows that women in their 60s and 70s are having the best sex of their lives. These are not narratives that you normally hear in the news, because the mainstream media is by and large an instrument of patriarchy; it is designed to keep us afraid and keep us turning to someone else to solve our problems for us.
Then, exalted emotions. How do you get your emotions exalted? You start to look for things that make you feel really good. For me it's an evening of tango dancing to gorgeous music; it feels amazing. I have a whole community of people who are all ages. We're there to dance. We're not there to say, "Oh, you're 50? You need to go in this group—this is the senior dancers."
The other thing about the healthy centenarians that's very interesting is that they are aware of righteous anger. So when they see the innocence of another being threatened—say, if someone is kicking a dog, or a waitress is being belittled at another table—they stand up and say something. Our immune system has morals. When something is happening right in front of us that is threatening someone else's innocence and we don't do anything, it adversely affects our immunity. What we're talking about is soul qualities. The soul doesn't have an age.
What can we do to combat our social programming about aging?
Here's the thing: You have to create a subculture of wellness. Then you can step out of the conversation altogether. By design, that's going to mean eliminating certain relationships and activities that you have outgrown. I think one of the cool things about being over 50 is that you realize you're not immortal; you say to yourself, if not now, when? We can't allow our dreams to be someday. I have a friend who spent years as a computer programmer, then at 40 she went to medical school and became a practicing physician, and now she is about to "retire" from that particular line of work; she says, "Okay, now I am going to live my life." We can reinvent ourselves.
Yet there comes a time as you're reinventing yourself when it's going to be uncomfortable. Going into that studio for the first time to learn tango, I thought, "Oh my God, this is what the world needs—another middle-aged woman who wants to learn how to dance." But I allowed my desire to learn to be greater than my doubts and fears. Now I've got a new group of friends, a new life. I've made my living room into a dance floor; I took out all the furniture so it's really a space for living.