I celebrated my 51st birthday at the beginning of the month. In the past few weeks, in a handful of casual conversations, people have stated I look a good decade-plus younger; one person even said early-30s. “You’ve got great genes!” type comments. It is flattering and nice to hear, but not important to me. Yet, my interest became piqued. After the last compliment, when I got home I went and looked in the mirror. My assessment was a shoulder shrug: “This is what 51 looks like.” If it’s not, I’m not sure what it is supposed to look like, other than apparently a lot worse given the recent comments.
Sure, great genes can play a part. But, only to a narrow degree. The USA is enough of a genetic melting pot so that the ‘aging benefits’ of any particular racial background is largely muted. That said, I’ll embrace my Spanish heritage happily.
I sat with this for a bit. Why do people of all age brackets do a double-take when they hear my age? There are plenty of folks who take care of themselves and age well. Is it really that unique? I did not think it was; maybe it is.
So, I started thinking about what I’m doing that may be different that what others are doing. I also thought back through my own athletic career and recalled athletes who surrounded me. While we all looked super fit, especially in triathlon people looked weathered and like beaten leather. It’s not just down to sun exposure. I grew up swimming year round and in summer it was outdoors for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. As a teenager, between workouts was a full day lifeguarding in the sun with no sunscreen. If anyone should look like beaten leather, it’s me!
What else? Nutrition? Well, I’ve never been a beacon of super healthful eating. As a swimmer growing up and through college, it was ‘see food and eat it.’ And, then eat even more of it. And then more again. It was definitely all about caloric consumption. As a triathlete, similarly. Now, while I’m more cognizant of what I eat, there’s no rigidity, there’s no diet. It’s still just ‘food is fuel’ and eat the right amount. And, have a daily drink and dessert. There’s always room for dessert!
So, what else? So far I’m not breaking any new ground or following any super secret rituals. The Fountain of Youth does not run through my idyllic back yard (I don’t even have a back yard). I started to think about work. Here, I start hitting on something. That being, when I started a corporate career about 20 years ago, I drew some fairly hard lines in the sand. I would never take a job that compromised my ability to work out. I would not travel for work more than 20-25% of the time (and typically achieved 10%). I would not work for a micro-managing boss. I would not work for a company that put profits ahead of employee well-being. I would not work for a company that did not provide adequate family benefits. I have seen too many corporate professionals who look terrible. They are physical and, in a growing number of cases, emotional wrecks. Work is the top priority in many of these folks’ lives. Living on the road is a tough bargain. It’s a deal made with the Devil. You’re not in familiar surroundings. Sleep suffers. You’re not eating as well and you’re eating more; you’re almost certainly drinking more. Stress is higher. It’s easier to get sick. My steadfastness at not compromising on my work conditions has most definitely shielded me from negative impacts on my well-being.
What else? Emotional health. I’ve been married for over a quarter-century. My spouse is my bedrock. She is my bulls-eye in Life. Our kids are not. My siblings and parents are not. My friends are not. Lori is. Here’s why. Our relationship as a couple has been our top priority. We raised our kids and are now empty nesters. Kids come into this world, grow up, and leave. When we were no longer kids, we left our own nests, right? I have seen so many couples around us get divorced because, at the end of the day, they sat across the table from each other and had nothing to talk about. They ignored being best friends and a couple as they focused everything on being parents and work. Lori and I didn’t. And I feel more in-love with her now than I did when we got married. Really. Along with this, we have lived by two very simple rules: (1) do not say anything you cannot take back; and (2) do not go to bed angry. Simple in concept, challenging to execute. Yet, we have never strayed. Not once. We’ve had disagreements, sure. But, I can’t recall the last time we had a fight. I really can’t. Holding on to negativity and letting it fester inside leads to apathy. No one benefits from this. Remembering why it is we fell in-love in the beginning and cherishing each other every day has had a profound effect on Life. When my relationship with Lori is humming along, everything else hums along. It all resonates. If Lori and I are a bit out of joint, that dissonance flows through other aspects of Life. Harmony breeds harmony. The two things I look forward to are morning coffee with Lori and an evening drink as we unwind before thinking about dinner. Every single day.
So, maybe these last two things are the real keys to retaining youth as we age. ‘Take care of yourself’ is too simplistic, too superficial. When we hit 50 (or thereabouts), we start bearing the scars of the first half of our lives. The more deeply they run, the more pronounced they reveal themselves on our faces and in our bodies. It is inevitable. Writing this has forced me to reflect on my Life. At dinner last night with three couples who are our dearest friends, we talked about things we may have done differently or that we regret from our earlier adulthood. I have very few regrets and none which can be classified as major which would have then had a profound impact on me. This is not to say I did everything perfectly. Far from it. Plenty of lessons were learned. But, regrets? No.
I look around at my Life today and one word comes to mind: contentedness. Every decision, every bend in the road, led me to where I sit today. And has impacted how I look, how I move and how I feel. Again, I’m not unique. Nor are my philosophies. I will concede they appear to be rarer than I figured they must be. For every decade-plus marriage, there are several which never make it that long. For every fit individual, there are a couple who are obese and one who is morbidly so. For every 40+ athlete hammering it, there are a handful who are breaking down and falling apart or deciding they’ve had enough and stop moving.
Hopefully each of you reading this can find some nugget to take from it. I sure don’t have all the answers. The above encapsulates my thoughts on Life, decisions I’ve made and why I think my 50s are going to define my best decade yet. And, if in 10 years people think I look closer to 40 than to 60, well, that will be icing on the cake.