How to stay forever young
"May your heart always be joyful. May your song always be sung. And may you stay forever young." - Bob Dylan
No matter our age in years, we can still remain young at heart. Equally, unless we are careful we can easily become old before our time. Whether or not we continue to have a youthful, enthusiastic attitude, doesn't really have much to do with the number of years we have lived.
If you'd like to remain young at heart for as long as possible here are three important things to consider:
1. Looking after yourself
Whilst having an ageing body and having an ageing mind are not necessarily the same thing, the two often do go hand-in-hand.
Letting our bodies go can often be the start of settling into middle age, even when we are still quite young in years. So looking after yourself through diet and exercise are important foundations to staying young. But there is a distinction, or at least an overlap between the type of diet and exercise that is best for fitness (and warding off illness like heart disease/diabetes) and the type of diet and exercise that is best for our mental health.
In relation to exercise, it might be best for your heart and muscles to do lots of short burst gym work and muscle building, but for mental health it's better to do regular, longer activities such as walking and cycling. It's even better to exercise with others such as by playing sport or (especially) dancing. But remember, there's no reason you can't do both gym work and social exercise.
In terms of diet, the standard advice about having plenty of fruit and vegetables, not too much sugar and little or no processed food, applies just as much to mental as to physical health. But foods that are particularly associated with looking after the brain are oily fish (like salmon and mackerel), seeds and nuts, olive oil, avocado and small amounts of dark chocolate. Also, drinking green tea and plenty of water are frequently associated in research papers with maintaining good brain health.
2. Keeping an open mind
When we are young, our brains are quite "plastic". Our opinions and preferences are not fully formed and we are open to learning and to experiencing new things. Then, as we get older, we can begin to get "set in our ways" and to adopt more rigid attitudes. One of the clearest signs that this is starting to happen is when we use expressions like "It wasn't like that in my day" or "I just don't understand young people these days" - forgetting that our parents once said the very same things!
It doesn't have to be this way. Our brains are quite capable of remaining plastic and flexible until the day we die, even if we are lucky enough to live to 100 or more.
One of the best ways to stay young is to regularly experience new things, such as travelling to new places, meeting new people, taking up a new hobby, listening to new music. In particular, it is important to guard against saying that you are too old to start something new, whether that is a new career, a new activity, or a new lifestyle. Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa at 76 after spending 27 years in jail. Actor Christopher Plummer won his first Oscar aged 82 and Gladys Burrill from Hawaii completed her first marathon aged 86. So ask yourself: When was the last time I did something for the first time? If the answer is some years ago, give yourself a new challenge today!
It's also important to continue to challenge our thinking and beliefs. There are benefits to acquiring maturity and wisdom. But we must guard against closing our minds to new ideas and different opinions, defining anyone who disagrees with us as being stupid or self-serving. Listening respectfully to other points of view and challenging our own perhaps long-held beliefs from time to time is essential if we are not going to end up becoming a grumpy old man (or woman).
3. Keeping good company
As a species, human beings are pack animals who are designed to work best in social groups, whether that is at work or with our families and friends. That's great, but we do need to recognise that one of results of that is that slowly there will be a tendency to adopt group habits and attitudes. Adopting similar behaviours and thinking along the same lines improves social cohesion and the bonding between work colleagues and friendship groups.
The danger in the context of staying young is when the behaviours and attitudes of the people we mix with become rigid. When no-one wants to try anything new and everyone starts to talk nostalgically about the good old days and the failings of young people.
If that becomes the situation in a group (or groups) that you part of, it is not essential that you leave in order to stay young at heart. But it will be necessary for you to buck the trend and go your own way outside the group environment. The best way of all to sustain a youthful spirit is to spend time and enjoy the company of others who have it, especially young adults and children.
How coaching can help
If any of the issues described above ring a bell with you and you think "maybe I should do something about that", talking to a coach can be a great first step. A good coach will provide a non-judgemental sounding board to help you explore your own feelings and attitudes in a way that is usually not possible with friends or family members. Then, without ever telling you what to do, a coach can help you prepare your own personal action plan to help you to stay forever young.
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