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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Keys to Staying 'Young'

"How old ARE you?"

I was asked this question by a new acquaintance shortly after we moved to Santa Rosa a little over a year ago. The fact that I had a (then) 15 year-old son kind of threw him off a little bit. When I told him I was turning 40 in a couple of weeks, he stared at me blankly for a second and said, "Oh."

People are often surprised when they find out that I am 40, now almost 41. Of course, I'd like to think it has something to do with appearance, but I am convinced that isn't entirely the case - some of it good, and some of it not-so-good.

Sure, I've been told, "You don't LOOK 40", or 30, or 20 or 10. I've always looked younger than my age, a disadvantage when you are a kid, and even as a teen, but certainly an advantage when one hits middle age and beyond.

But beyond genetic coding, there are other ways to retain your youth, both physically and mentally. Here are some things that have worked for me:

1. Exercise




Like many, I neglected my body pretty poorly in my early-mid 30s when my metabolism decided to go on vacation, and decided to do something about it. I've been running regularly now for the past 5 years (3 times per week, 5 miles each run), and have never felt better physically. In fact, I am in the best shape of my life - even better than when I played football and soccer as a kid and teenager. My endurance is very high, and I am stronger and have more energy. Plus, I am happier with my appearance, which is a positive, psychologically.

But, exercising has far more benefits than just 'looks'. Other benefits include the obvious - good overall health, as well as the less obvious - good (at least, "better-than-it-would-be-without-exercise") psychological health. Proper exercise releases natural endorphins in the brain, giving one a better sense of well-being. In fact, regular exercise is often prescribed for those with depression. Basically, if you've never exercised regularly as an adult, you don't know what you are missing brain-chemistry-wise.

Working out is NOT entirely about vanity. Sure, it may start off as such, but for those who stick with it and make it a life-style choice, regular exercise is an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, serotonin-reuptake inhibitor pill all its own.

Here's a good link if you are interested: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201009/why-running-is-incredible-medicine-your-brain

2. Be, and Stay Yourself

I'm not talking about arrested development here, though I admittedly suffer to a degree from it. I am talking about NOT pretending to be what you "think" a middle-aged person is. I mean, there is no reason to start practicing for your local shuffle-board tournament when you are 35 years old. Nor is there a "time" when one should ditch heavy metal exclusively for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.



And Josh Groban? Really? Oh well, to each her own ;)

Not that there is anything wrong with Mo-Tab, though. I love Mo-Tab, when Mo-Tab is appropriate for the occasion. But I'm not going to suddenly decide to drop the music I crank up in my car, or while I am running because I am 'too old' for it.

It's what I like.

While I am on the topic of music, if you truly love death metal, or industrial punk, or gangsta rap (none of which I particularly enjoy), if it doesn't cause you to turn into a total DB, and inspires you to be better, by all means, enjoy it when you're 80.

3. Stay Current.

This is a tricky one to navigate. On the one hand, it can be quite pathetic to see a 35+ man in skinny jeans, or a 35+ woman in a mini-skirt. But it is equally sad to see a 35+ person arguing that since U2's 'Joshua Tree' album, all music in the world since, has "sucked". My generation should have learned that lesson from the generation previous, who generally look down upon all else since the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.



It is also quite sad when I hear people espousing the virtues of 'older' technology such as DOS, rotary phones, records, cassette tapes, rabbit ears, word processors, and Atari or Nintendo game consoles as somehow more 'virtuous' than what is available to us today.

Bottom line: Don't get too rigid.

Here's another good link: http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/stressmanagement/a/whatismental.htm

So, let's keep that brain flexible by staying current.

4. Watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network with your kids.




I do this on occasion, and I must admit, I laugh. Why? Because a lot of it is funny. Invader Zim was awesome when it was on, as were Fairly Odd Parents and Madam Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Gumball, Johnny Test, and Regular Show are some of my current favorites.

Much of it is juvenile, but it allows me to stay current on not only what my kids are watching, but on what is considered 'funny' by the next generation. Let's face it, humor evolves (or devolves). What was funny to our grandparents, like 'Popeye' isn't so funny to us now. However, Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry are still pretty funny in their own sick, twisted, violent ways.

5. And Finally: UNCLENCH



Seriously, people need to lighten up. As often as I am complimented for 'maintaining' my youth, I am criticized by many of my contemporaries for being the way that I am. Does it make them feel better about themselves? Are they threatened by the likes of people like me? Am I not fitting what they consider to be the proper "mold"? Careful you're not buttoned up too tightly, or your collar might choke you to death.

Here's the key: I'm not trying to stay young, so much as I am just enjoying life.