I must confess that one thing I hate is to regard myself as elderly. I have crossed 58. I console by telling myself that I am in the late middle age and not old. But then I realize that you retire when you get to be 60. I am lucky that I am in the legal profession where one does not need to retire and you can keep practicing even if you forget at times in front of the judge as to which side you are representing, as I have seen happening to some old lawyers.
Why is it frustrating to be old? I cannot speak for others but as far as I am concerned I feel that I missed out on lots of things. I made lots of mistakes and missed many opportunities. And the clock cannot be turned back. I would not say that I am unhappy with life but I could have done better. This makes one unhappy and angry at times.
As if all of this is not enough, you live in a society like Pakistan where there are young all around you and you feel like an alien. The society is catering to the young, unlike in the West or Japan where a sizeable section of the population belongs to my age. If you do not agree with me then all you have to do is to look at all the advertisements or the TV programs which appear ridiculous to me and resultantly I do not even watch them.
An article recently appeared in the New York Times by one Gerald Marzorati which said that 60 “is not the new 40. Fifty isn’t either. Your lung capacity in late-middle age is in steady decline, as are the fast-twitch muscle fibers that provide power and speed. Your heart capacity has been ebbing for decades. Your sight has been getting worse, your other senses, too, and this, along with a gradually receding ability to integrate information you are absorbing and to then issue motor commands, means your balance is not what it used to be. (Your flattening arches are not helping.) Your prefrontal cortex where the concentrating and deciding gets done has been shrinking for some time, perhaps since you graduated from college. More of your career (more of your life) is behind you than in front of you. Do not kid yourself about this. You are milling in the anteroom of the aged.
You can have something done with those sags and creases deepening on the face that greets you in the mirror each morning, but I am not sure whom you are fooling. You can do the crossword and mind puzzles, stretch, take long walks: There is evidence that these activities correlate with keeping memory loss and, you know, death at bay, for a while longer: two, four, six years. Maybe.”
So what should folks like me do then, although many may feel healthy and physically fit.
Mr Marzorati in the above mentioned article suggests something that might do all of these things and may provide you with a deeply satisfying sense of yourself that you did have when you were younger. Find something, something new, something difficult, to immerse yourself in and improve at.
When is the last time you improved at anything? Mr Marzorati is talking about improving at a demanding skill or set of skills, like a craft, or a discipline. He is suggesting something that will take years to get proficient at, something that there is a correct way of doing, handed down for generations or even ages, and for which there is no way for you to create shortcuts.
The Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has written extensively about what inhibits people from making a commitment to continuous improvement. School children, for instance, are often afraid of appearing to need to improve; worrying that they will be perceived and judged as unintelligent, they struggle not to learn but to seem smart.
Here is a blessing of late-middle age: You will not be inhibited from improving. You are not young. And learning and improving at a sport or activity will not make you feel young in any physical way. In fact, you will feel more consciously and intensely to be of a certain age.
Mr Marzorati argues that there are benefits associated with taking up something new and trying to get better at it. Our brain is recast and strengthened. He is of the opinion that our memory is improved. Some say the intense and prolonged physical exertion while learning a new sport may fend off cancer by slowing the decline of our telomeres, the tiny caps on the ends of our DNA strands that tend to shorten and fray with age, and leave the DNA subject to greater risk of mutation during cell division and replication. Physical exertion obviously does good things for our heart.
One doctor and writer Jerome Groopman says that “the genesis of aging is still a mystery.” There may be many aspects to why it occurs, and at what rate it occurs. There may be ways of increasing longevity, and for any one of us it may work, or not. So learning a new sport at this age may not prolong your life, or it just may. But it will definitely do one thing: you will come to know yourself better. Is that not what Montaigne said we were supposed to do later in life?
Even if it does you no good, for argument’s sake, at least, it will divert our attention from the morbid thoughts about the past, our failures, unhappiness, health concerns and death.
There are three ages, chronological, biological, and psychological. The first is calculated based on our date of birth; the second is determined by the health conditions and the third is how old we feel we are. While we do not have control over the first, we can take care of our health with good diet, exercise and a cheerful attitude; and a positive attitude and optimistic thinking can help us feel young at any age.
No doubt health is wealth, and this is the reason we all read this Magazine. Despite this, we all will leave this world one day. There is nothing to be afraid of death. No one is going to die for you; they may be depressed for some time. But time heals everything and the world including our family will carry on. Such is life…