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Holy Moly. I Could Live a Long Time.

Have you taken the Blue Zones Vitality Test?

I took the Blue Zones Vitality Test. You can too, right here: Blue Zones Vitality Test.

Full disclosure: I will turn 70 this year, and I got back from the doctor’s office, had one of my least favorite procedures, and was feeling a little down. I was feeling old, and mortal.

So, I decided to take the Blue Zones Vitality Test. I haven’t taken the test for a decade. I used to score seven years below my chronological age, which made me feel superior, until about 10 years ago. Then I turned 60 and stuff started showing up. The Vitality Test as I take it doesn’t measure biological age anymore. It does project longevity.

I’m not a superior athletic specimen. I’m overweight, matronly. I am a grandparent. I do swim laps and walk regularly. I grew up during the height of Betty Crocker and processed foods, owned a Betty Crocker cookbook and in fact, lived pretty close to Betty Crocker Drive.

But since we all got the memo about processed foods and living right I’ve been doing OK. You know, healthy eating, exercise, sleep, less stress, good relationships, a higher purpose.

I was steadily climbing the ladder I thought I should climb and was feeling accomplished career-wise, but had these bouts of overwhelming stress. I can be a slow learner and realized that more responsibility equaled more stress and I was not handling it so well.

Mind you, I think a career making a difference in the field you’ve chosen, positively impacting people’s lives, is wonderful. It can be great and fulfilling for decades. There comes a time, though, to step back or step down. I took it. I retired from directing health and human services.

I always thought I wouldn’t live that long. I told my financial advisor I didn’t need to project my savings through age 100. This sense of a near-end date is due to my parents’ ages at death.

But, as I’ve gotten older, I like being around. I like being a grandparent and traveling and writing and knowing a lot of stuff. Oh, I have lots of deficits, but this is a positive story.

I also know we’ve all been stressed, the world has been stressed, between apocalyptic visions generated by a quavering democracy, a new war in Europe, and a virus that had us shut down and left us staring out our windows blankly. I know climate change will challenge us all. The sky where I am living turned orange and then soot gray. The tides run higher.

Still, I might have thirty years and we could accomplish some things in that time, for Mother Earth and you and me. You might have more than thirty years.

The Blue Zones are based on studying groups of people who live a long time naturally.

They eat well and simply, exercise naturally, have a community of support, and have faith in something larger. It all sounds like a Hallmark movie. You can read about Blue Zones yourself if you are not already familiar with them. I think the principles have become accepted common sense.

The other thing I wanted to talk about was the Fear of Getting Old. That is silly. I should know, I was feeling it myself earlier today.

Stuff is going to happen. You will get scars, ones that show and ones only you and a few others know about. I came up in a generation that was never going to trust anyone over 30. I love learning about the points of view of those under 30 and every other age.

Franklin Roosevelt looked like a very old man before he died, at age 63. When I look at historical figures photographed in that era, they all look old when relatively young. We’ve advanced a lot with cosmetic treatments, yes, but even more with medical treatments.

Covid did a number on the average age of mortality for many countries’ populations. Nevertheless, medicine has advanced, and many cultures are having to figure out how to manage a long-living population. We have also learned how to better manage our behaviors.

The loss of dreams is a very deep grief.

One needs to mourn the imagined future, before being able to pivot or rebuild. The most tears I ever cried was when I was in my twenties and had broken up with my romantic partner of five years. I lay in the bathtub and wept, tears flowing into the water. I was weeping for the bridal dress I had looked at, the children I had imagined, and the days growing old together (cue the Beatles song When I’m 64). Maybe that’s why getting older is easier. We don’t grieve the loss of dreasm so much as we’ve learned to pivot.

The other irony, of course, is the longer you live well, the better your projections, actuarially speaking. You care less about your spider veins and more about your legs working; stress less about crow’s feet and welcome happy lines.

Optimism is a moral choice.

This brings me to my third point. Optimism is a moral choice. I have seen this sentiment credited to Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health and Dr. Jim Kim of the World Bank and others. I believe this sentiment is necessary for both our motivation and our hope for the future.

Dr. Kim talked about how one couldn’t be a global ambassador to the world’s poor without a sense of optimism. We need to be realistic, yes, but find the strength to work together to make the changes we need. Although the boomers are maybe rightfully blamed for the current state of things, I did come of age with a sense of agency, that I could change things.

We, all of us, can still change big things, in our small ways.

The Takeaways:

Live the Blue Zones principles for a balanced life.

Don’t fear getting old. Welcome the added years.

Optimisin is a moral choice.

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3 Responses

  1. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    I really appreciate this one, especially you referencing Paul Farmer, and talking about Optimism being a moral choice. This really speaks to me. The Rabbinic sages, many of whom were subject to depression, came to the same conclusions. Thanks for your thoughtful essays!

  2. Vicki Strahan
    | Reply

    Sharon, so well said. I’m still shocked that I’m this age (67) . I own an aging dog and as I think of his passing at some point and getting another dog, I did the quick math and realized I could be well into my 80’s when a new dog may pass. What?! Another crazy reminder that life indeed is marching on and us with it!

  3. Kathryn Custer
    | Reply

    I attempted to take the Blue Zones Test but couldn’t get past question #4. Tech problems. I get the idea though.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about aging and more.

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