Sunday, January 8, 2012

It’s a Freaking Family Reunion

Do you sometimes wonder who the heck the person looking back at you in the mirror is? As I get older I know I do. In a flash I see a grandma and an aunt here, and there’s my mom or is that my sister there, and why is my uncle looking back at me? I really did not see those similarities years before, but more recently I seem to be having a freaking family reunion every time I look in the mirror. Is this part of what we all call the aging process? And where the heck did that darn wrinkle come from because I know it wasn't there yesterday, and it doesn't remind me of anyone from my family!

If you think that the aging process is out of your control, think again. *George Vaillant, M.D., in his book, Aging Well, points out the usual suspects one would presume to find when listing factors involved in aging, but also includes some interesting predictors we might want to consider.

Controllable predictors:
  • Non-smoker
  • Not abusing alcohol
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stable marriage
  • Pursuing education
  • Maintaining adaptive defenses or coping strategies
Also critical:
  • Network of intimate friends and healing relationships
  • Knowing how to play and have fun
  • Subjective good health (you may have an illness or potentially debilitating condition, but you don’t allow it to get to you)
“As we get older, maintenance becomes more important than genes.”*

Uncontrollable factors that do NOT affect healthy aging:
  • Ancestral longevity
  • Parental social class
  • Childhood temperament
  • Family cohesion
  • Cholesterol levels/High Blood Pressure/Diabetes (working with your doctor and taking your medication properly make these manageable)
  • Stress
“Aging happy and well, instead of sad and sick, is at least under some personal control.”*

So back to the family reunion in the mirror⎯I'm going to smile at all those wonderful people who seemed to have recently moved into my face. I haven’t turned into one of those dried apple-face dolls yet and neither have any of those other people staring back at me. As I look at the controllable and critical predictors above, I see I can do something about the aging process. I want to insure that as I go forward in this life, I continue to be happy and well⎯because after all, isn't that what really matters!

And as far as those wrinkles go, don’t forget what my mom told me when I was a teenager⎯moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Yes, mom, I’ve been moisturizing my entire body since then, and thank you by the way!
*George Vaillant, MD professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medial School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development
Mirror Mirror on the wall photo courtesy of Cali4beach