There’s a book I read to my granddaughters a couple of years ago, and now they sometimes read it themselves.
It’s Just Aging is the story of a little girl in Hawaii who, in hanging out with her grandparents, learns about the aging process and how it’s a natural occurrence and nothing to worry about or fear. We age, we change physically and mentally. I’m going to discuss a little bit of why and how our bodies may change.
This is me: Up until about ten years ago, I would look in the mirror and say, “OK, not great, but OK.” I exercised daily, tried to limit my intake of the food I love (pasta, bread, ice cream, candy, donuts), ate a lot of veggies and fish. I wasn’t buff (more like a three-pack instead of a six-pack), but I liked what I saw. Then, as I continued to age, I looked different. I began to sag; I started getting what they call “liver spots” on my arms, and one of my face-it was very disconcerting, and I gotta say, frustrating because I was still working out and walking a lot. My weight was pretty much the same (maybe a few extra pounds but my clothes still fit), but that same weight was looking very different on me.
I couldn’t understand it.
Why was this happening despite my watching my diet and exercising every day? I learned why, in a course, I took when I went back to school to study Gerontology /Aging Studies in an attempt to begin an encore career in the field of Aging. One of my required courses was the Sociology of Health and Aging, and it was in this course that I got the full picture of why my body was sagging despite my best efforts to stay and look fit.
If you’re in the same boat as I am, if your muscle tone seems to be moving to Florida without you, blame it on your integumentary system. Yep, it’s the integumentary system; that’s the culprit. So what is it? The integumentary system is a system of organs and glands composed of our skin, hair, nails, and certain glands, including our sweat glands. Over time, according to what I’ve read, your skin thins loses its tone. Most of us go gray or bald or, as in my case, both. And your nails may get thinner too and begin to break or crack more readily. Some folks experience dry skin as they age. Blame the exocrine glands, the part of the integumentary system that functions to secrete oil that lubricates the skin. Both of those things are happening to me. I have to cut my fingernails a lot more often than I used to, and I have to use lotion on the skin that never used to be dry.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will. And it will likely manifest itself differently for each of us. For me, internalizing the reality that it is just aging has been very hard. It’s hard because I have worked to maintain my physical well-being, which includes how I look when I look in the mirror.
I’m not saying embrace this new, only aging you. What I am saying is that you can’t control it-no matter what the cosmetic procedures are available to disguise the effects of Aging, you’re still going to age. I’m trying to get my head around it, to accept that “it’s only aging.” Some days I do it better than others. But even on the days I look in the mirror and say to myself, “it is what it is, at least you’re vertical,” I still don’t like what I see.
So, given that we can’t control the changes in our bodies brought about through Aging and subsequent changes in the way our integumentary system functions, there are still things we can control so that we age as well as we possibly can. And I believe that the key to aging well is to control whatever we can control and accept that there are some things we just can’t control-we are going to sag and have cracked nails etc. (don’t look in the mirror when you’re naked).
As far as controlling what we can control, there’s diet, exercise, social interaction and, this is very important, mental engagement-doing stuff that makes you use your brain. I’m auditing a course at my local community college. I also have a method of doing crossword puzzles that turns into mini-research projects. The mental engagement thing is critical; it’s something to which we tend not to pay enough attention. One of my former professors and his business partner (who used to be AARP’s brain science maven) have a program they call “Qualongevity,” which means quality longevity, i.e., aging well. They follow the latest developments in brain science research then translate it into plain English, so the rest of us can benefit from what they’ve learned. In my next post, I will discuss Qualongevity in more detail and provide some examples of what each of us can do to exercise our brains and keep them fit. Until then, be careful and stay well.
– Edward from McMinnville, Oregon, a FAR customer who is finding purpose in this new stage of his life.
Edward writes for FAR and is also a customer. He is 73-year-old, born and raised in and around New York City. After college and a little graduate school, he took Horace Greeley’s advice and went west. Edward lived in several cities throughout California and currently resides in Oregon. He practiced law for a few years as part of a law collective doing what they called “people’s law,” but spent most of his career working as an internal organizer for the unions.
When Edward’s career ended with the unions, he was determined to become an advocate for older adults. He enrolled at Portland Community College studying Gerontology. He learned a lot about aging and how it applied to his own life experiences and my own aging process. Much of Edward’s writing is related to what he learned in his Gerontology studies.
* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Finance of America Reverse (LLC).