If, as a millennial, you haven’t already experienced it, the terror of facing the inevitable effects of ageing is probably just around the corner. Anxiety about hair loss, that lingering pain in your hip, the creases on your face that seem to pop up over night – they’re all part of the package. To top it off, birthdays seem to come around faster and faster. And yet, right now, you’re the youngest you’ll ever be going forward. Ingrid Fetell Lee, writing for Ted Ideas says that instead of thinking about ageing as “something to defeat and conquer”, we should “embrace what gets better with age, and work to amplify these joys while mitigating the losses of youth”. She recommends discarding our anxieties about getting older, by focusing instead on ageing joyfully.
When we – predominantly women – talk about ageing, the focus is often on ageing gracefully. “This generally involves looking at least three to five years younger than you actually are, while not appearing to do anything to get that way. It also means “acting your age,” by wearing age-appropriate clothes, having age-appropriate hair and doing age-appropriate activities — but maybe doing one or two surprisingly youthful things (surfing, maybe, or tap dancing) that don’t seem like you’re trying too hard yet let people know you’re still in the game”.
If getting older doesn’t give you grey hairs, thinking about all of the do’s and don’ts of ageing certainly will!
Despite all of the focus on appearing like you’re living in a timeless vacuum, those who adhere to society’s standards – whether through surgery, younger romantic partners or still going to nightclubs in their forties – are often the subjects of judgement. It’s a game that nobody can win. (Well, except those genetically lucky few). So why are we still playing?
Instead of spending time and money stressing about how to set back the clock, Lee suggests we relax, enjoy the journey and spend our time ageing joyfully. She’s even written up a list of ways to go about doing so! Here are some of her recommendations, which you can start applying at any age:
Seek out awe
Taking time to notice awe-inspiring things around you is perhaps the simplest way to enhance your enjoyment of the present moment. Not only that, but according to one study, taking an “awe walk,” (a walk specifically focused on attending to inspiring things around you) increases joy and feelings like generosity and kindness more than simply taking your average stroll outside. These walks are low impact, and don’t need to take much longer than 15 minutes, so there’s no reason not to give them a try!
As we grow older, turning our attention to the things that spark our sense of wonder is a great way to keep feeling young and, more importantly, joyful.
Get a culture fix
Lee writes that a A 1996 study of more than 12,000 people in Sweden found a correlation between those who attended cultural events tended to live longer. Since then, other studies have confirmed that people who go out to the movies, to church, bingo events, or other cultural gatherings deepen feelings of belonging. This, of course, is great for general wellbeing and for keeping the mind active.
Gathering in groups has been tough over the last year and a bit, but once it’s safe to do so again, try to keep finding new ways to get your culture fix and participate in community activities to keep your brain sharp!
Use your senses
“When mice are placed in ‘enriched environments’ with lots of sensorial stimuli and opportunities for physical movement,” says Lee, “it mitigates neurological changes associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. While there is some evidence to suggest that this might apply to humans as well, the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not yet well understood”.
What does this mean for us? It’s possible that surrounding ourselves with rich environments which contain colour, smells, and other sensory stimuli might help keep our senses sharp and our minds healthy. Think about how much more enjoyable it is working in a well-lit office, with plants and views of the city than it is in a windowless, beige cubicle.
To make room for ageing joyfully, try to create environments that inspire and motivate you, and allow you to use all your senses.
Treat yourself with flowers
One way to add sensory stimuli to your environment is with fresh flowers. But according to Lee, treating yourself to a gift of fresh blooms may have other benefits too!
“A study of older adults found that memory and mood improved when people were given a gift of flowers, which wasn’t the case when they were given another kind of gift”.
This is possibly because of the restorative effect looking at fresh greenery has on us. It may also be hardwired into our evolutionary make-up to appreciate flowers – because knowing where flowers grew meant knowing where to find plants that bore fruit. Whatever the reason, flowers are good for your brain, and surrounding yourself with them brings loads of benefits.
Whether you choose to buy them in the store or grow them yourself, bring some blooms into your life as often as possible.
Yes, we know exercise is good for us. But as we get older it becomes even more important. This is because as we age, the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning – shrinks, and exercise has been shown to increase its size. This means that staying mobile effectively reverses the effects of ageing on the brain!
Additionally, the rush of happy hormones that comes with exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase joy in our lives. “When I struggle to get motivated to exercise, I often think about my future self and how investing in my mobility now can help preserve range of motion and minimise repetitive stress injuries later,” writes Lee.
If ageing joyfully is one of your priorities, you can’t dodge working up a little bit of a sweat. Find ways of moving your body that excite or relax you. This could be long walks by the sea, weight lifting, yoga – even hula! Whatever works for you!
Tech it up
Finally, don’t neglect the tech! Although our obsession with screens can be blamed for a lot of things, the ability to use new tech can actually be a boon to ageing adults.
Lee writes that this could be on account of the way we use tech to facilitate connections with others.
“Studies suggest that when older adults lack the skills to be able to use technology effectively, it leads to a greater sense of disconnection and disempowerment and that offering training to older adults on technology can promote cognitive function, interpersonal connection and a sense of control and independence”.
In a world that’s becoming more and more tech-centered and tech-reliant, being able to interact with it and take care of ourselves is important. Be open to new experiences – whether that involves new apps or new hardware. Remember how millennials hated on TikTok before we all finally got hooked? Don’t do that. When it comes to embracing tech, you’re only as old as you feel, and keeping up with what the kids are using is an excellent way to keep yourself youthful too.
According to Lee, “as we age, we have a choice: we can either cling to the world as we shaped it and refuse to engage in the new world our kids’ and grandkids’ generations are creating, or we can adapt to their world and remain curious, active participants in it”.
Yes, there are a few unavoidable challenges that come with getting older, and that pain in your hip might not actually go away, but if we shift our focus to ageing joyfully, we really can make the most of the experience. Instead of clinging to our youth, we can learn to enjoy every moment, while ensuring that we’re doing our future selves some favours. As they say, age is nothing more than a number after all.