Updated: Apr 4, 2022
In my recent interview on Dr Katrina Ubell’s podcast Weight Loss for Busy Physicians, we discussed a couple of common misconceptions about aging. Listen to it HERE .
Metabolism and aging
We doctors had thought for decades that our metabolism slows as we age, and that this was a key factor that causes the inevitable weight gain that we see as people age. Dr Ubell highlights an article from the New York Times that describes a study published in Science on Aug 2021. This multinational study involving almost 6,500 people basically found that our basal metabolic rate remains stable between ages 20 to 60 years of age.
This new research basically shifts more emphasis towards complex hormonal and body composition changes that occur as we age. Which is actually good news, because for example it means that we can do a lot to reduce the effects of aging by maintaining lean muscle mass through resistance training.
Another misconception about aging has to do with the common belief that you lose your looks as you age. Our societal programming is so youth-oriented and patriarchal that it’s taken me decades to become aware of how deeply I had internalized the messaging. Messages like: Your 20’s are the best time of your life, or that Life goes downhill after your 30s. Baby boomers are to be pitied, or even ridiculed as in the popular derogatory agist Boomer meme.
Considering the alternative, aging is the best gift that this life can offer.
I used to hide my age, feel ashamed about my grey hair and wrinkles, until I realized that it wasn’t so much about my appearance. The reality is that beauty is just a set of arbitrary standards that youth alone does not solve. After all, I distinctly remember that I found endless ways to hate on my looks in my teens, twenties, on up. And actually we don’t have to buy into the popular agist societal narrative. <<The Enemy is Us>>. We each have the option of choosing to accept the reality of aging and how we want to age beautifully. <<Free to Choose>>.
Peeling back the onion further, what I learned is that perhaps the most insidious belief that I had about aging was that it’s something that happens to us. As if we are going along in life, minding our own business, and then all of a sudden one day, the Age Fairy decides to dump a bunch of problems on you. You lose your mobility, your memory, your independence. Your old age life is going to for sure be bad. It’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s painful.
So it’s not really just about the grey hairs nor wrinkles per se. It’s about this misperception that aging represents all these terrible things that will happen to you when you age. But what if that’s not how aging actually happens?
The reality is that whether we like it or not, we are all aging. Every day, year after year. Aging is a universal experience of not only the human condition, but of every form of life on the planet. And problems arise when we ignore our age, or try to fight it. We might try anti-aging supplements, or do cosmetic or bodywork to combat signs of aging. We stick our heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend it’s not happening, until we hit this wall where our bodies just start quitting on us.
One of my favorite features of Asian cultures is their reverence and respect for elders. And while this may seem obvious, it’s worth highlighting how this dynamic plays out.
If I grow up believing that my grandmother is wise and generous, and that she is a valuable part of my life, then I will want to maintain that relationship with her. And more importantly, I will do my best to embody that wisdom and ensure that I have the means to be generous to my own children and grandchildren as I get older.
But if I grow up believing that elders are pathetic and irrelevant, then I may choose to focus my efforts on living life to the fullest while I’m young, and to buy into the societal narrative that happens to coincide with my belief. So by the time I’m in middle age, I’m believing that I’m increasingly pathetic and irrelevant. I hate on my body and looks, and I’m passively allowing myself to become pathetic and irrelevant.
I believe that choosing proactively to prioritize and to take care of my body despite whatever may happen in terms of illness or injury is the work of my lifetime. I also believe that I must proactively choose to continue to create value indefinitely, following my various interests and trusting my intuition and integrity. Aging will continue to happen to us all, and considering the alternative, it’s the best gift that this life can offer.