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Ageing backwards: be your own hero

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Picture: Supplied – The way you walk. The way you talk. The way you respond. Your posture. Your skin. Your constitution. You can control this if you cultivate your mindfulness and practice healthy body and mind rituals. You must focus on both. One won’t seal the deal when it comes to ageing, says the writer.

By Henry Bantjez

How you age is a choice – I am 50 (chronologically) but biologically I feel 30 including my mental and physical capacity.

Your biological age is measured against your blood pressure, fat content, heart rate, cholesterol, immune system, bone density, sugar metabolism, flexibility, hormone levels (sex drive) and so much more. Your chronological age is from the date you were born to the age you are today.

Aunty Megan from Oudshoorn was thus entirely correct when she said the other day that age “ain’t nothing but a number”. A 70-year-old, with few wrinkles, who laughs (at full volume) and jokes addictively during dialogue as if it were second nature. She walks with a straight back, lives life with intent, tilts her head to the left, then looks into my eyes when answering a question.

She dresses like a young lady. She does it effortlessly and with class. Her psychological age (how she feels) appears way below the 70 mark. Sophia Lauren, the embodiment of graceful ageing, told CNN, “Walk like the world belongs to you”. Aunty Megan walks as if she were her own hero.

In 1913 the average life span in the West was around 49. Today research suggests around 90 to 100, and new-borns are at an even higher trajectory. Credit is due to improved nutrition, vaccination, and better hygiene, and for some a higher level of education. Awareness. Knowing. Meditation.

Your number one fear in life is death, yet you die every day. Your genetic timer is programmed for death. The cells in your body restore every four to five days, your skin cells die at least once a month and are regenerated, your liver cells die every 6 weeks, your skeleton recycles every couple of months. It is nature’s way of keeping us energised. Now imagine you honed into this consciousness of birth and death. This kind of awareness. Remember, nobody dies of old age. We die of circumstances related to our age, and we age because of circumstances related to our age. Awareness of these circumstances, and proper practice, will keep you young.

So, let’s look at the mind. Can the mind keep you young? Yes. The mind is the subjective experience of consciousness, and the body is the objective experience of consciousness. Anti-ageing is the reappearance of completeness and beauty. A state of primordial being. Self-reparation. The external visual effects of it. A state of homeostasis. Equilibrium. But how? The answer is simple. When your mind is unbalanced, so is your body. When your mind is inflamed with anger, hostility, depression, anxiety, judgement, resentment, low EQ, guilt and shame, your body becomes inflamed. When your mind is at peace, your body, so to say, relaxes and heals because the mind is quiet. Your cell repair mechanisms work overtime. This means that knowing this (awareness) and something as simple as a healthy attitude toward life can keep you young.

And here’s the astonishing truth: Love keeps you young. Real deep love. Especially love without judgement. Being in love makes you look younger because it triggers oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, and increases anti-inflammatory responses. Repairing the skin barrier, it improves micro-circulation. In other words, getting your groove on makes you look more youthful.

And here’s another one that keeps you young. Meditation. It helps you stay mentally sharp. It cultivates awareness. You learn to slow down. It inspires you to write a gratitude journal. It reprogrammes your brain to re-experience joy. It creates equanimity – calmness and composure in difficult situations. Research has shown that after meditation, the body’s telomeres, an enzyme that controls your biological clock and plays a central role in cell fate and ageing can go up by 40 percent in four days. Imagine that.

Here is the big one – lack of sleep. Your number one predictor of premature death that is associated with cardiovascular illness and Alzheimer’s. While you are snoozing your skin’s blood flow increases, bringing nutrients and healthy colour, and rebuilding collagen. It even repairs damage from UV exposure as well as age spots. Enough sleep also keeps inflammation in check and reduces stress-generated and age-accelerating cellular damage to your skin and body. So, think of not enough sleep as the reverse of what I just said. If you don’t sleep enough, you will age.

Accelerated ageing caused by lack of sleep, stress, unhealthy emotions lack of mind-body co-ordination and above all poor nutrition, can cause chronic inflammation in your body and make you look older. It is a crucial contributor to various age-related pathologies and natural processes in ageing tissue, including the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.

The way you walk. The way you talk. The way you respond. Your posture. Your skin. Your constitution. You can control this if you cultivate your mindfulness and practice healthy body and mind rituals. You must focus on both. One won’t seal the deal when it comes to ageing.

So, start removing toxins from your body and mind. Learn to decrease stress by meditation, awareness, compassion, finding love, laughing, having goals, exercising, eating healthily, increasing antioxidants in your body, vigilant skin care regimes, and avoiding anything that causes inflammation. Ageing should not be normal. What is normal? I get the same response when people ask about my age. “What? No way”. To them, it seems unbelievable. But the unbelievable is achievable. Make a conscious choice to look (body) and feel (mind) great today. But work at it. I always thought I had very fortunate genes that added to my look. But what an untrue statement.

Genetics contribute a very small percentage to ageing. Your choices override them all. The way you live. The way you think. The way you react. The way you show up. So let us wake up from the hypnosis of social conditioning and start ageing backwards.

Henry Bantjez is a cognitive behavioural therapist from Cape Town and counsels individuals and large corporates