Let Go of Your Fixed Ideas About Aging Process  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

There is a dramatic increase in the longevity of human kind at least in the western world. At the dawn of this century, the average life-span of an American was 49 years. In less than hundred years the life span of an average American has extended to 75 years and it appears that it will keep on extending. Longevity is a very elastic thing and there is nothing etched in concrete about that. As regard the aging, we are living in the most fortunate times. Up to the 18th century, people on average died before they reached the age 45. In the nineteenth century, the increase in life span was four years, but then in the twentieth century it has leaped to full twenty-six years! 

India has witnessed even a more dramatic increase in longevity. In my own life time, the longevity has increased by 50%. In India, completion of the sixtieth year used to be big event for celebration. Not many people used to make it that far, so it was a cause for special celebration. Children, grandchildren and relatives came and honored the "elderly." 

A hundred years ago, in the Western world, only 10 percent of the population crossed the 65th birthday. Today, 80 percent of the population lives beyond the age 65. It means that eight times more people live beyond 65 years in our times. Those who are born today, can expect to be active, healthy, and strong in their seventies and eighties. The "new old age" is already here. More and more people in their sixties and seventies are sprinting around the neighborhoods in the jogging shoes. 

In order to acquire a new concept of "old age," we will have to change our concept of middle age. What is "old age" today may become the "middle age" of tomorrow. Even today, the concept of old age and middle age in one part of the globe may be very different from that in the other part of the globe. 

When I went to England from India, my concept of age was pretty much what I had learned in my elementary school when the average life of people used to be 46 years or so. Middle age for me was somewhere between forty to fifty. Once, when I was presenting a patient's history to a group of English mental health professionals, I referred to a 45 year old patient, as a "middle age person." Everyone laughed at my concept of middle age. In England in those days middle age was somewhere in the late 50's.  The horizons of age were expanded for me instantly.

Many people know when they are going to die because their parent, a brother or sister died prematurely of a particular illness.  They cling to the idea forever.  They are unconsciously giving themselves a negative direction.  The idea works like an anchor for the mind or like a goal which gains the power to pull toward itself.  Besides, it generates tremendous anxiety as the person gets closer to that age.  He or she becomes extremely sensitive to anything that appears as a signs of that illness. A slight indication of an irregularity, an ache or pain is readily misinterpreted as a "messenger" of the bad news that he or she has been fearing (and waiting) for years. Tell yourself that, "it's not going to happen to me." You may be the odd one out, that lucky "freak" of family genetics to whom it's not going to happen. 

There are thousands of people living right now who once had a terminal illness and were told they had six months or less. They are still living well past that predicted period. Guess who lives beyond the predicted period--the one who believes the doctor's prediction or the one who doesn't?   Beware of anyone who sets your time to die.
An astrologer read my horoscope in my teen-age years had predicted that I would die in my sixty-eighth year. In all my youth, I never questioned it. It was like given, you adjust your life around it. I had no need to question it. One, I thought that span of life was pretty good and second who wants to live beyond that age anyway when you are shaky and feeble and your skin is hanging outside your collar. 
But as I get a better understanding how health and aging are affected by our beliefs and expectations, I have begun to question the limits of my life and I am deprogramming myself. I come from a time and place when sixty-eight were really old and their feet were literally hanging in grave. But my father lived up to ninety-four years of age and my mother up to seventy-two. There is no reason why I can't be healthy, alert, and happy when I am eighty or ninety or beyond.  Don't sell yourself short. If you ask for less, you will get less. So if you have any preconceived notion about your lifespan or how bad your old age will be, surrender those ideas as merely whims. You will be grateful for your (extra) life for this advice. In spite of the fact that we all age and die, aging is still a very individual and personal thing.
We all don't age the same way and at the same age, even the twins at times die at different ages. There is no reason why twins should die in the same year, provided that the surviving twin does not get too depressed or to convinced that it is also his or her time to go. So it is not something that is entirely genetically determined. We all have some say in how and when we are going to get old.
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels rise in old age. There is no simple rule that these two conditions follow, perhaps they have to do with our lifestyles and our emotions. Similarly there is not systematic and comprehensive theory of aging. In most instances people die of some illness or accident and not simply of old age. Old age hardly kills anybody.
Let us look at the wear and tear theory of aging and dying. In the olden days the wear and tear of the body was due to the onslaught of harsh climate, hard work, diseases, poor nutrition that kept escalating the toll as years went by. A 40 year old person in the old days was physically and mentally what a person would look like of 70 or 80 years old today. "New old age" started being seen in late 60's and 70's. The new old age is that people are mentally agile, physically active, they jog, they play tennis, golf, or some other sport and move about from one part of the country to the other in their motor homes and that new old age is very different from the old concept of old age.
Women have a longer longevity. Women have always lived 4 to 5 years longer then men have. Even in India where women use to eat whatever was left over by the men in the family all the male members eat first, and after they finish the women will sit down to have their meals. The nutrition of the food and the quantity of food was always a second giving for women, but they still lived longer then men there. Eighty percent of all Centenarians are women. Seventy-five percent of the women are widowed and their old age. Only fifty percent live in nursing home. Public opinion polls indicate that the majority of people don't want to live up to 100 years of age. They expect the centenarian age as the rocking chair and tube feeding existence. My question is "Why shouldn't one desire to live that long as a healthy, active, and mentally alert?"

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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