Anyone getting older in our society today has likely heard much anti-aging talk. The rhetoric seems to take two forms: the discussion of a looming health care crisis due to population aging (with corresponding calls for self-responsibility toward health), and discussion about ways people can look young and stay young. Both discussions embrace the assumption that aging is a problem to be feared and fixed, and also put the solution to the aging ‘problem’ on the individual. The assumption is that as we age, we must stay up to date on the latest information and techniques in order to avoid the physical or functional appearance of being “old.” Unfortunately, there isn’t much discussion about the positives of getting older. There also isn’t much discussion on how to handle the challenges of aging in a positive way without placing blame on older people who have chronic illness, injury, or difficulty with eating healthfully and exercising. It’s no wonder that high levels of stress and depression can often accompany getting older.
We are inundated with information about what we should do, what we must do, what we need to avoid. Much of this information conflicts with each other, and our health choices become political stances. Whether meat eater or vegan, whether we walk for exercise or do strength training, we are trying to “get it right” in a society that places the responsibility for our health directly on our shoulders. Therefore, we feel pressure to avoid looking or seeming ‘old’ by following the proper health trends and guidelines so that we stay healthy and disease free. Those who manage to stay healthy can at best feel good about themselves for taking action. At worst, those who manage to seem healthy and ‘not old’ may become smug, self-righteous, or judgmental toward those who do not make the same choices. Increasingly we want to stay healthy in order to be “good citizens”, as health has become a virtue in our society.
The ideology of health as a virtue was first popularized in Rowe & Khan’s book “Successful Aging”, and these values reflect success as defined by health rather than illness, and ability rather than disability. Clearly, at Love Your Age, we want people to be healthy and to exercise. However, when the societal message at large is that “success” means avoiding illness or the appearance of decline, aging becomes a risky experience. But in fact, despite our best efforts, sometimes we can’t avoid illness, chronic disease, or injury. Does that then mean that those who live with chronic illness, disease, and impairment to function are unsuccessful at aging? Absolutely not! We need to stop judging others for the natural process of getting older, and stop creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ at aging. How we live our lives as we get older is personal, and is for no one to judge. While we want to help people live lives that are as healthy as possible, we do not want to contribute to the “successful aging” conversation. Your ‘success’ is not defined by your ability level or your health status We all need to collectively encourage and espouse a multitude of role models which provide inspiration for the many ways we want to age. No one should define for another older person what makes a vibrant, purposeful, and enjoyable life. Therefore, let the years that lie ahead of you be filled with passion, purpose, and a definition of success that is your own.