You Create Your Own Ageist World

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-48-26-pmI don’t know if I am writing this for you, dear Reader — as they used to say back in the day — or for me. But I’m writing it to call attention to negative stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others,  and how they can influence our lives. We all do it; I’m no less guilty than you are.

Right now, changes are going on in my family because my son is getting a divorce. Those are the facts. But as I’ve been watching him and the woman he has been married to for nine years prepare to live separately, it has been amazing to see the gyrations they’ve been going through.

Here, after all, are two people who know each other pretty well, and yet the accusations fly back and forth, and all trust seems to have vanished one day, returned the next, and vanished again.

All the while, nothing has changed in the facts. He’s still the same man, she’s still the same woman, the law is the law, and they have two kids. And yet their divorce, like all divorces, has produced dozens of negative stories and incidences of negative self-talk. It’s all so clear to me that the negative stories they tell themselves are doing a disservice to both of them and probably to their children.

I’m really able to see this going on. Why? Because it’s not about me.  As soon as it becomes about me, I’m blinded by my own negative stories.

I’m reminded of two summers ago, when my daughter and her husband invited me to vacation with them and my grandson at a camp in Brittany, France.  Europeans often goin on family vacations where they camp. Most of them live in cities, and this gives a chance to get out into nature.

Any outside observer would have said, “you lucky woman! You have a daughter and son-in-law who are going to take you on a vacation in Europe. You must be the most fortunate person in the world!”

Not me! My negative story started immediately: “how am I ever going to sleep in a tent?” (We didn’t. They rented a mobile home.) “What will I do without Starbucks and a city in the immediate vicinity? I’ll be like a fish out of water.” (This was for all of one week).

And the worst of them all: “I’m too old to do all these things. I can’t swim, I don’t play tennis anymore, I can’t canoe, I don’t dance….” and so on ad nauseum, to the point where when we actually got to the place and checked in, I began to cry.

Fortunately, my daughter does not let me continue with my negative stories for very long; she runs out of patience with them. So she said to me, “every year you go to this conference, YxYY (Yes and Yes Yes) conceived by and for people who say yes. So shouldn’t you be saying “Oui and Oui Oui?”

Of course that’s true; I’d attended three of those conferences in Palm Springs dedicated to being a positive force for other people. So what was I doing now? That dissolved my negativity and I ended up canoeing, swimming, hiking, dancing, and going for a week without Starbucks.

At the end of that week, I came to yet another realization; I was creating my own ageism, directed toward myself. If I can’t face me without thinking I was old, how can I expect anyone else to do any different.

We create the reality around us. Don’t ever let anyone tell you we don’t. And if we want to re-define aging, we have to begin inside ourselves.

 

9/11: Reflections

I remember exactly where I was fifteen years ago when the first plane hit the tower. My team and I were at Jim Garvey’s company, IIS, which at the time was at the height of its dot-com bubbliciousness. We were about to start a meeting, and someone hadn’t arrived yet, and someone else turned the TV on. We were all stunned. Clearly this would not be a day to have a marketing meeting. And yet we didn’t leave immediately. I think we didn’t know what the hell to do, and it took about half an hour for things to sink in so completely that we realized a meeting would be out of the question.

But I, anyway, didn’t realize how deep an impression 9/11 would leave on America. So deep that on this day of remembrance fifteen years later, my friend Kyle Lawson, a former journalist, would feel compelled to write that he “grew old too late,” because he never wanted to live to see this.

His words, better than mine, for this day when both aging and ageism seem like trivial subjects to discuss:

I grew old too late. I was sitting in the newsroom at the Arizona Republic when the first images flashed on the television monitors. The tower. The Pentagon. The second tower. I never wanted to see a day like that. I never wanted to feel my innocence crumble.

Nothing has been the same since.

The falling glass of the towers drove a shard into America’s heart.
We have become a nation so enmeshed in the desire for revenge, the hatred of the “other,” that we are are in danger of forgetting the words of our Pledge, “liberty and justice for all.”

Somehow, I can’t believe the innocents of 9/11 died for that.

Fifteen years from that horrific day, we face an unpredictable future. We are confronted by political corruption and corporate avarice and enemies within and without. We are pitted skin color against skin color, religious belief against religious belief, political ideology against political ideology.

We seek to legislate a morality that we do not practice. We rebel against change and fear we are being left behind in the chase for the American dream. We worry that our children and grandchildren will stand hostage to tyranny.

Yet, at its heart, unchronicled by the media or the political campaigns, there is an America that has not lost faith in the words of its pledge, that weeps at injustice, that dreams of equality and opportunity, that believes a nation can be moral and still be strong.

In times of natural disaster and personal loss, that nation lifts its hand to help the helpless. It shares in the grief, it rejoices in the happiness. It follows that elusive hope.

The words of the Stone Lady still echo in its heart, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The Declaration of Independence still resonates. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We walk a tightrope, but we have been there before and come through.

On this day of reflection, I pray not only for the dead but the living. Every action we take will resonate long after we are gone.

Let us keep our eyes on the dream.

I hope I can do that. More than once in recent history I have gone out to dinner with my friend Fred, and he has said, “we’re lucky we’re old, Francine. Our children and their children will live in a much more difficult world.” I don’t want to believe that. Any of it.

Lonely? Get a Dog or Two

“Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness,” screamed the NY Times headline over the weekend. An epidemic indeed. And yet the only people mentioned in the epidemic are the elderly, consigned to a life of birthdays without parties and days without talking to another soul. Indeed, if the article is to be believed, the elderly will also die alone.

Give me a break. Everybody dies alone.

I grant you that I will probably never call the Silver Hotline mentioned in the story just to speak to another human being, but neither will most older people I know. In fact, the loneliest people I know are  young people, recently relocated to new cities, new jobs, new relationships, and first-time life experiences. Without dates, spouses, significant others, pets, or children, young people can be much more lonely than the elderly.

This is not to say older people are not lonely. But since I’ve had five marriages, producing five stepchildren and two birth children, and fostered three children who have themselves produced five grandchildren, I now find myself in the position of being a woman with too many grandchildren to count reliably, and not all that much “alone time.”

But even if you weren’t promiscuous with your affections in your youth, there are many available solutions for loneliness, and I believe that loneliness, like boredom, comes from within.

Once again, I draw upon my own solutions:

1) I rescue dogs, and that makes it important to get up in the morning and take them to a park to walk them. Other people with dogs are also in the park, and we’re a multi-generational group, defined more by the ages and breeds of our dogs than anything else. It’s incredible fun, and incredible bonding. Now we all go out to dinner.

2)Once a week, I take Pilates. I march my body out of the house to a studio in my neighborhood and groan along with ten other men and women laying on their Reformers hoping for the elusive Pilates body. We laugh at almost anything.

3)Three times a week I take yoga: each time at a different studio. Enter still more people who share my affinity for this 5000-year-old humbling practice. Yes, some of them are pretzels without arthritis, but I do it with my eyes closed.

4)And then I volunteer: I mentor young entrepreneurs, and lead a couple of entrepreneurship groups, where I’m mostly working with people thirty or forty years younger on problems that know no age limits.

5) I go to bars. Well, it’s not quite like that. I go out to eat at restaurants where you can eat at the bar, and I prefer to eat at the bar. I simply place my latest tech toy on the bar –Apple Watch, Google Glass, whatever — and wait for people to ask me about it.

5)Last, but not least, I spend inordinate amounts of time talking to strangers and acquaintances in far-flung places on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. I also answer the occasional LinkedIn email.

Oops, I forgot to mention travel. Sometimes I actually meet the people I’ve already “met” on social media.

Bottom line: there’s no excuse for loneliness. It falls to the individual to involve herself (and the majority of elderly are women, because my husband told me the men had the good sense to die first) in things that are fun, fulfilling, and even educational. I wish researchers would quit studying things with existing remedies and redouble their efforts on the difficult problems.

 

A Man’s Take on Ageism

Ageism works in many different ways. It’s like a lot of other destructive “isms” – sexism, racism – based on assumptions, stereotypes and projections of our own fears and failings. Some are barely subtle, like “you look good for your age.”  Other kinds of Ageism are more overt.

For instance – ever hear this one?

“The sexual peak for men is about 18 years a old, and for women around 30 years old.”

This falls under Hitler’s “Big Lie”  – (“tell a lie big enough and often enough and everyone will believe it”). There are many of these Big Lie’s in all “isms” – particularly in Ageism. But let’s start with that one.

This sexual peak quip seems to have originated from the 1950’s.  Dr. Kinsey, did you get anything right?  He wrongly equated hormonal peak with sexual prime. But I suspect this concept proliferated because a lot of men in the 1950’s embraced this factoid as a way of explaining their own behavior, or lack of performance.

Modern Research is pretty clear that the overall physical peak for both men and women is in their early 30’s. But let’s be clear about the use of the term “physical peak” and its implications:

Physical peak generally means you can be at your best in your early-to-mid 30’s – or primed  to be at your best physical shape at this age.

Think about the best professional athletes out there – not Olympiads who train for a single performance every 4 years – but professional athletes who train to compete almost continuously. While there are many who burst on to the scene like a phenomenon in their early 20s, most of the lasting-legends hit their peak-stride (their best performances) while in their 30’s.  Think through your favorite sports, and favorite legends: Serena and Venus Williams? Muhammad Ali? Michael Jordan? Derek Jeter? The list is very long. Sure, there are exceptions, younger, older – but the bell curve for peak performance is very wide for the mid-30’s.

But so what? These are professionals and outliers. Not exactly. This “peak physical shape” assertion just means that – whatever kind of shape you are in your mid thirties is like a multiplier – it will determine how fit you will be for the rest of your life. The downside is that, if you start getting sedentary and out of shape at this time of your life – this will stick, too.  Part of this is physical, and part of it is lifestyle (mental) – ie. habits, routine etc.

What usually happens to most people is, by the time they hit mid-thirties, they have major lifestyle changes:  Steady job, spouse maybe some kids, easier hobbies and habits like watching TV – that preclude exercising as regularly, or as intensely. Then it’s a downward cycle. Your body adapts and gets used to it. This was very commonplace in the 50’s and 60’s and earlier, when getting married and settling down was common, and expected.

But since the 1970’s -we’ve become a fitness society. Gyms are on every corner, aerobics classes, yoga, spinning,running, using our Fitbits, Jawbones and Garmins.  Ever look at a photo of a 40 year old from the 1950’s? They look liked a senior citizen.

Want to see what 40 looks like today? Look at Leonardo Dicaprio and Reese Witherspoon. Jennifer Aniston is 47 and Julia Roberts is 48; Hugh Jackman is 47; Matt Damon and Mark Whalberg are 45.

Want to see what 50 looks like today?  Look at Brad Pitt, 52 or Michelle Obama – same age. Think Johnny Depp is sexy?  53; Tom Cruise,  George Clooney are both 55 years old; Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson – who both still do action movies are in their 60s; Denzel Washington?  61.

Harrison Ford made the last Indiana Jones movie (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) – doing some of his own stunts AND with his shirt off – when he was 66 years old. Robert Redford just turned 80, and Clint Eastwood is still attracting and dating much younger women – at age 86.

Remember Sean Connery? He beat out some pretty-boys and beefcakes to be named People’s Sexiest Man Alive at age 59 – and Sexiest Man of the Century, at age 69. One more: Barack Obama – 55 years old.

These are not freaks of nature. And this is not about people whose jobs are centered around being professionally good-looking. This is just who we are now.  It’s who we all are now.

It reflects how much better we are keeping in shape. Maybe it is the proliferation of fitness options, or nutritional products.  Or, maybe the bar has been raised since we’re such an image-conscious society. The fact is that we are living longer, and taking care of ourselves and are in better shape.  And if you’re keeping fit during your mid-30’s, chances are you’ll remain fit and health for the rest of your life.

The modern cliche “40 is the new 30” is passe. Today, it’s “50 is the new 30”, and in many cases 60, 70 and beyond. Ageism, well, this is soon to be outed as mere jealously, because that 20-something is nowhere near their peak yet.

How to Prevent Being Seen as Old

The Wall Street Journal had an article about aging that is worth reading, but was behind a pay wall. Because it cuts to the chase about everything I believe and needs to be more widely appreciated, I’m summarizing it here. It’s the data behind everything I try to tell people: what you do when you are younger determines what you will be able to do when you are older. And what you are able to do determines how you will be seen. Now, at age 75, I’m reaping the benefits of 25 years of running, twenty years of yoga, a lifetime of weights, bands and isometric exercises, Pilates, and all the other stuff I’ve done over the years.

For most people, the eyes are first thing they notice about aging. But the eyes don’t really change until 40, while hearing loss starts at age 25 (concerts, anyone?) and bone mass starts to decline in the 30s. Hearing is apparently best between 18 and 25, and it’s all downhill from there. Getting people to exercise in their 20s and 30s, when they are raising children and establishing careers is difficult, but I’m out to do my share. At age 30, I learned to play tennis and began a lifetime of exercise.

I’m also a big fan of good nutrition.

Like many people, I began to notice balance issues in my 50s, and that’s when lower body strength declines as well. Here’s the money quote:

“Every function of the human body declines 5% every 10 years,” says Michael Roizen,chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “That’s brain function, heart function, liver function. The difference is when you sense it and when it hits the critical level where it decreases functioning for you.”

Because I noticed the balance issues, I began to practice yoga. If I hadn’t done that, at the age I am now I would have much worse issues.  Many people my age are in walkers and wheelchairs. And if you didn’t practice yoga, or regularly try balancing on one leg for a minute, you’d never know you had a balance issue until you started falling.

The mind, of course, starts to decline almost as soon as you get out of school. Cognitive processing and working memory can start to face in the 20s. Learning new things can be more difficult, which is why many older people are put off by technology. To prevent that, do one task at a time (who does?) and do it until you are finished.

Forty may be the new 30, but that doesn’t prevent presbyopia (the inability to read things close up) and dry eye becomes more common. More important, we need to know that the worst thing that can happen to your eyes is age-related macular degeneration. Fortunately, a good diet can prevent that: leafy green veggies, vitamin C and E.

Because bone mass loss starts at about 30, exercise is important. We also lose muscle mass at the rate of 10% per decade. It’s the bone loss and muscle mass that cause the problems with balance and walking.  And if you are not fit in your forties, you are going to have real trouble when you get to 65.

I’ve seen it first hand. One reason we have ageism in our society is because the people who don’t stay fit are the image most of us know about aging. To present another image, which we all want to do, we have to work at it. Invest time earlier, and you will be happy later.

 

 

 

Me and My Microbiome

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 12.16.51 PMIf you don’t already know what your microbiome is, you soon will.  It’s the hot new thing in the advancing study of health and aging. Basically, it’s a bunch of microbes, some good and some bad, that live in your body and mine. Well, actually it’s trillions of microbes and can account for 1-3% of body mass. Some are bad, but many are good.

About twenty years ago, scientists began to do research into the microbiota in the gut, suspecting they might have a role in the immune system. That’s when people started telling you to take a probiotic after an antibiotic, remember?

That research has progressed past pure science, and you can now have your biome sequenced the way you can have your genome done.(23andMe). Early adopter that I am, I had my genes sequenced before the FDA stopped 23andMe from releasing health information, and I found out I had an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, and no special risk for anything else except some conditions women get when they are of child bearing age. Fortunately, I passed all of those — the genes didn’t express. Now I’m trying to get the Parkinsonism gene not to express. It turns out you can do that by fostering your immune system.

That, for those who know me, is the reason I turned vegan five years ago. I know that genetics doesn’t doom you to illnesses of aging, it simply predisposes you to them. You can still save yourself, as I clearly did without knowing it by exercising, not smoking, and phasing in and out of vegetarianism through my entire life.

So now they’re finding out that the bacteria in your gut influence your immune system, and that — guess what — you can influence your biome. So I just signed up with ubiome to have my microbiome sequenced.

And after I did that, I was wandering around their site and found the following research:

1)dogs can share bacteria with and between people, and couples who cohabit with a dog have more bacteria in common than couples who don’t. I cohabit with one roommate and five dogs. Apparently, I  have many microbes in common with my dogs, and not so many in common with other dogs.

2)children who grow up with a dog have less tendency to develop allergies and asthma, giving strength to the hypothesis that young children need exposure to bacteria and dirt to develop their immune systems. Dogs make houses dirtier, and this is good for children.

3) The University of Arizona is doing a study to find out whether giving dogs to older people will improve their health. They’ve given dogs adopted from the Humane Society to people over 50 who’ve never had one or not had one for a while. Their theory is that good bacteria from the dog will be transmitted to the owner, causing a health improvement.

So if you were putting off getting that dog…

I’ll let you know my results when I get them.

 

 

 

How to Stay Relevant

You’re never irrelevant if you stay relevant. But that’s on you. Staying relevant is a game; you have to treat it that way and get good at it. It’s really not age-related or gender-related, or even race-related.

When I first entered the workplace, women were pretty marginalized, as older people are today. They did the trivial tasks, made the coffee, and ran errands, the younger equivalents of WalMart greeters. On the day John F. Kennedy died, I was on the top floor of 30 Rockefeller Center, which at that time held the offices of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, one of J. Walter Thompson’s biggest clients. I, with a BA from Cornell and an MA from Columbia, was delivering an envelope from JWT to a Singer exec. I was a messenger.

I was doing a necessary, but invisible task. In those days, women weren’t relevant in careers. When I learned Kennedy had been killed, I went home and quit my job, vowing never to be trivial or irrelevant again.I constantly dedicated myself to proving my individuality. I refused to be lumped into a group called “women,” and therefore marginalized. It was hard work.

I went back and got the ultimate in street cred, a Ph.D. No matter what they tell you, men are still intimidated by a woman with an advanced degree. With that degree I could never be “written off” as not smart enough. After all, I was a professor.

I worked all the way up to the days I delivered my two children, and went back to work two weeks later, proving I was serious about my career as a professor. I then carried my infants in backpacks to work. No one did that in the 70s. Most women quit work 3 months into their pregnancies and never came back.

I fought to allow women into the Men’s Grill at the Phoenix Country Club in the 1970s, proclaiming myself a “Womens’ Libber.”

I quit my professor job cold and started a PR company in 1980. I adopted all the technology I could, because it was all new and many men were unfamiliar with it. It was a huge competitive edge. What were the technologies? The telephone voice recorder, the Apple 2, and the cellular phone. The fax machine. In 1980 these things, no longer useful, hadn’t even made the hype cycle yet.answering_machine

I always tried to know about something before other people did.

I walked in slightly late to meetings, as the men did, announcing that my time was as valuable as theirs. I, too, was busy. Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Phoenix Suns and chaired a community board I was on,  once threatened to lock me out if I showed up late again.  But he really couldn’t do that because he needed me to do the PR for the organization. I did not change my behavior.

I drove a Mercedes, like the men did, and procured one of the earliest cell phones by joining a syndicate of men who were buying them in bulk when they first came out. I ran 8 marathons, I became capable tournament tennis player, and I competed on every playing field.

I invested alongside men.

It was a game. I got really good at it. I never internalized it; I never allowed those guys to throw me to the sidelines. Nor do I allow that now. Just like you have to make your own happiness, you have to make your own relevance. Two words. Neil Young. Two more. Mick Jagger.

 

 

How to Age Well and Stay Healthy