While I rushed from work, dodging red lights and slow poke drivers in front of me, I frantically searched for a parking spot while texting my friend things like: “Sorry!” or “Almost there!” Last week I met with a dear friend of mine for coffee. I hadn’t seen her in nearly two years. The worst thing is, we live in the same little town. The cool thing is, she understood completely. We both have three kids, a husband, jobs, and all the busy things that go with all of that. We both are energetic, lively souls who push ourselves and take care of everyone else.
After I seized a parking spot, I ran down the street to find her sitting outside at the street café. She stood up, both of us gleaming as we hugged. She laughed, “I feel like I’m on a blind date!” She had already gotten her coffee. I chose to skip the coffee and sit down and talk, because she had to leave 30 minutes later for her next appointment, and I didn’t want to waste any more time ordering coffee. Catching up with my friend was so much more important.
As we sat down, spattering out as many updates we could think of, she told me something tragic. Her sister-in-law, a mother of two children, found out she has stage 4 cancer. Just a few months before she received her diagnosis, her husband left her for a 20-year old. She started losing lots of weight and—boom—her life has been cut off short. My friend told me the whole scary story, how she has been fighting it, in and out of the hospital for months, and how my friend has been taking care of her niece and nephew while their mom fights for her life. As I sat in horror, listening to her story, I wondered something: Will I have to go through this? My sister? My best friend? None of us know. Her sister-in-law just turned 50 years old. There was no celebrating. As she lay in her hospital bed she told my friend, “You know, I always said that when I turn 50 everything will be easier and I’ll have more time for myself. And now? I have nothing. Nothing at all.”
At age 42, I find myself thinking: How much time do I have?
I have three young children, a rocky marriage (midlife crises and all), and no time for myself. When will I make time for myself? When I’m 50? One of my yoga teachers once said, “At age 40, everyone starts divorcing; at age 50, everyone gets sick.” Is that the way it should be? Our 40’s are truly a stressful time for many of us: kids, jobs, midlife crises, elder parents, household, financial issues, and so on. Does it make sense to postpone taking care of yourself until no one else needs you? I’m afraid if I let myself run ragged, I will not exist at age 51. Having all these responsibilities is no excuse. A journalist once asked the honorable Dalai Lama how often he meditates each day. He answered, “One hour.” The journalist exclaimed, “Wow, how do you find time when you are so busy?” The Dalai Lama smiled, “Oh, when I’m busy, I meditate for two hours.” The stress of our 40’s is not an excuse. In fact, it is the reason to make time for ourselves. I certainly do not take good care of myself. And talking with my friend, I learned that many of us don’t.
Sicknesses like cancer and heart disease do not just pop up all of a sudden. They grow inside you and can often be reversed if the right measures are taken early enough. Starting around the age of 40, our bodies start working less efficiently than they used to. Collagen decreases, eyesight fades, brain functioning slows, and our cells and immune system work less efficiently (Raz, et. al., 2000; Raz & Spencer, 1995; Mazzeo, 1994). If we wait 10 years to do anything for our body, mind, and spirit, it might just be too late. If we wait, our bodies might have already stopped working well enough to resist disease. We need to start taking care of our bodies, minds, and spirits in our 40’s at the very latest. Many of us still have young children at 40. We might be at the top of our career, or just getting back in the game after taking a break to raise our children. Many feel like there is simply not enough time in the day. It is tough to make the time, but it is essential to the rest of your life. At the age of 40 you have at least another 40 years to live! Don’t you want to live those abundantly? It’s time to take steps towards a healthier mind, body and spirit.
For simplicity, I’ll break down those steps into three components. You guessed it: body, mind, and spirit:
Body: This involves taking care of your physical body, internally and externally.
You are what you eat. Eat mindfully! Take better care about what you put into your mouth. Eat organic. Get rid of all processed foods. Learn about nutrition. Don’t stay stubbornly ignorant. What you put into your body DOES make a difference to your body.
Sweat every day. I have tried (and tried, and tried) to become a runner. I hate it. Well, I used to hate it. Once I finally told myself to just break a sweat, I released the pressure to perform. I put too much pressure on myself to run fast, long and hard. Now, I’m running for 30 minutes day, sweating, and enjoying it!
Stay flexible. Flexibility is essential to staying young. It is good for your body to stretch your muscles, keep your joints healthy, and keep your back strong. Try doing yoga, pilates, or some combination of both. If you’re not into yoga or pilates, just do simple stretches every day. It will keep you feeling great!
Get your check-ups. Don’t skip the check-ups! I just called my family doctor to get a blood test done. I want everything checked. The doctor’s assistant told me I’m overdue on my check-up. I didn’t even know it! When was the last time you went to the doctor for a check-up? You do have time. If you want to live long, take charge of your health!
Mind: Take care of your mind. There are many ways to do this:
Meditate. I could write so much on this subject. There are many scientific studies out there that have shown the incredible effects that meditation has on the brain, and thus the body and mind. Don’t be scared of meditation. There are many kinds and even more teachers to instruct you. If you don’t want to go to a teacher or class, check out YouTube or Google it. There are tons of resources.
Stay social. Don’t be a hermit. Are your only social contacts your spouse, kids and colleagues? Make time for friends. Even if you don’t feel like it because you’re tired. Force yourself to meet them at least once a month. Like my friend, we both decided to meet up even if it was nothing but a rushed 30 minutes. It was fabulous seeing her and gave me so much positive energy.
Keep learning new things. Learn something new everyday. Read books. Get off your smart phone! Continue to learn new things, because this will give you the feeling that you are alive and not just existing!
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is often in the same sentence as meditation. But you can practice mindfulness all the time. You can be mindful while eating, jogging, in the middle of a meeting, essentially any time of the day. Mindfulness means being aware of your current moment, being aware of your thoughts, feelings and external environment without judging them. Just notice.
Spirit: This is a tricky one to define, but it involves your feelings, your attitudes and general outlook, including spirituality:
Believe in something. You don’t have to start going to church or join a religious group to believe in something. Read uplifting stories. Give to a charity. Get involved in charity fundraising. Believe in the goodness of life and living beings having a higher purpose.
Attitude of gratitude. This is one of the most powerful practices ever. Ask yourself everyday, “What am I thankful for today?” Write it in a journal. Or, while eating dinner, have everyone say three things they’re grateful for that day. We do this and it helps create a wonderfully positive atmosphere at the dinner table, and teaches my children gratitude.
Realize that the other one is you. Contemplate that everyone else around you is connected. We are all connected to the same source. And, we all have a story to tell. Each and every one of us has a story. If you keep that in mind, it is nearly impossible to hate anyone. As you walk down the street, silently speak a mantra, “I am you” as you look at others walking by, or as you stand at the cashier in the store. Everyone has his or her proverbial cross to bear, and everyone just wants to be happy.
Often if one aspect of ourselves is out of sync with the rest, our energy will be off and we will create blocks within us that will wreak havoc on your physical body. It is all connected. In general, human beings are living longer. So, even if you’re guaranteed to never get cancer or heart disease or some other devastating or deadly illness, don't you want to live the rest of your life with vibrancy and an aliveness that lets you live your life to the fullest?
Mazzeo, R. S. (1994). The influence of exercise and aging on immune function. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 26(5), 586-592.
Raz, N., Craik, F.I.M. (Ed), Salthouse, T. A. (Ed). (2000). Aging of the brain and its impact on cognitive performance: Integration of structural and functional findings,The handbook of aging and cognition (2nd ed.), 1-90. Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, ix, 755 pp.
Raz, N. & Spencer, W. D. (1995). Differential effects of aging on memory for content and context: A meta-analysis, Psychology and Aging, 10(4), Dec 1995, 527-539. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0882-79220.127.116.117