My badass midlife. What does that mean? OK, the midlife part is pretty obvious, but what makes it badass? How can I make it badass? Where do I start? I started this blog to question, explore, challenge, critique, and document my journey towards the best, most badass midlife I can have. A good hunk of that exploration will focus on health and well-being because good health is the foundation of a good life. You can’t travel the world, have adventures, work in the garden, or accomplish great things if you’re worrying about your health. I’m fascinated by the subject of extreme longevity, but the truth is, I wouldn’t want to a live long time if it meant being unhealthy for many of those years. Not if it means just hanging on, barely surviving.I don’t just want a long LIFespan, I want a long HEALTHspan. I want to thrive and that means being healthy every step of the way.
“But decline is inevitable,” you say. “We all get old!”
Of course we do (IF we’re lucky!) But there is a difference between chronological aging and biological aging. Chronological aging is inevitable but biological aging is not. Yes, we get older – the Earth keeps going around the sun and every year we mark one more revolution in our lifetimes. But those years don’t have to weigh us down the way so many Americans assume they do.
The diseases and discomforts that we say are “just part of getting older” are for the most part NOT simply symptoms of age. There are the result of how we live. I’m not saying hat we can stay as young-looking and -performing as a 25 year old. And yes, our bodies do change: our hair goes gray, our skin wrinkles. But decline is not a given. There no reason to accept the deterioration and discomfort of stiff joints, weak bones, wasting muscle, or lost memory just because we’re getting older.
We can avoid the worst causes of elderly mortality by taking care of ourselves and engaging in lifestyle practices that keep us healthier longer. The leading causes of death for adults: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke are all preventable and caused by how we eat, live, and move (or don’t). Therefore, they can be avoided by being deliberate about those aspects of our lives.
As I mentioned before, longevity science fascinated me – and there is so much interesting work being done in this field! Everyday it seems like there’s a new study examining the biology of aging and the steps we can take to do it in as healthy a way as possible. I’m going to focus on those studies and more in these pages, exploring all the ways we can make the second half of our lives as healthy – if not healthier! – than our early years.
I’ve always been fascinating by science and the natural world. I have a graduate degree in oceanography and spent 20+ year as a climate science/policy wonk before I decided (this year) to become certified as a health coach. I’ve also always loved health and fitness. In fact, in my 20’s I was a certified group fitness instructor and taught kickboxing to Senate staffers on Capitol Hill. 🙂
In many ways, I’m following the path laid down by my parents. They were relatively health conscience for the time they grow up in – the 1950’s – and were ahead of the curve on many things. Sugar, for example. We never drank sweetened drinks like soda, and ate vegetables and salads nearly every day. My mom learned transcendental meditation in the 70s and practiced twice a day nearly every day of her life. I grew up thinking meditation was something moms just did!
On the other hand, some of the things they did make me cringe today: orange juice for breakfast (ugh the sugar!), whole grain bread (I have celiac as an adult, so, no thank you and honestly no one needs refined carbs in any form). Our salads were made with pale iceberg lettuce – there was no such thing as “mesclun greens” (from the French “mesclar” or mixture). We ate frozen “veggies” like everyone else: you know, the mix of corn, green beans, peas, and carrots (only one of those is actually a vegetable. Corn is a grain and green beans and peas are legumes). They bought into the anti-fat thing like everyone else and we only ever had margarine in our fridge, no butter. And my mom drank diet soda – Tab to be exact – with saccharine. Yuck!
Worst of all, however, was’t what they ate but what else they did in the house: they smoked. This was the 1970s and the surgeon general’s warning was on every pack of cigarettes but that didn’t stop them. They were both addicted. I guess I can understand why: every was doing it, it was an appetite suppressant (appealing for my mother) and they’d both become addicted at difficult times in their lives. My mother was in fact given her first cigarette at her mother’s funeral – after her mother died young of breast cancer. Even sadder is the fact that smoking is the #1 risk factor for bladder cancer, which killed her at 64.
And that’s of course another reason I’m obsessed with health: women in my family haven’t lived very long. My mother’s mother died of breast cancer at 43. My mother’s younger sister died of a brain tumor at 43. My mother got bladder cancer at 44 and died at 64. Yes, I am very grateful to make it to 50, but I’m not content with that. One the other side of my family was my father’s father who lived to 96. That was after a fairly miserable life of alcoholism and abuse (of other people, namely my father and grandmother – although I have little doubt that was what he experienced growing up).
While I’m healthy and feel pretty good overall, I also have health challenges. Like too many people, especially women, I have autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity is when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks it’s own tissues – and it is on the rise. No one knows why for sure but there are a number of theories, all of which have to do with our modern diet, lifestyle, and environment.
Unfortunately, having on autoimmune disease increases your risk of getting multiple disease, which is the case for me. Around 23 years old, I started having symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is when the immune system attacks the thyroid and causes it to slow down (hypothyroidism). Five years later ,I started having symptoms of celiac disease. Many people know celiac as the disease that means you can’t eat gluten, but did you know it’s an autoimmune condition? In the presence of gluten, the immune system attacks the cells that line the intestine. The damage of those attacks can make it difficult for celiac sufferers to absorb nutrients from food, putting us at risk of malnutrition. It also increases the risk of cancers of the gut.
Both of my autoimmune conditions started when I was an adult – and both came after a major emotional trauma. Yes, emotional. Our bodies do not distinguish between emotional, mental, or physical stress. Any kind of stress is translated by our bodies as a threat that needs to be dealt with, which requires some sort of response, adaptation, or accommodation. That’s why I’ll be talking about and exploring emotional and mental change as much as physical and dietary ones.
The first 50 years of this journey have been interesting, exciting, and a lot of fun. I’m going to do everything I can to ensure the next 50 are equally, if not more so!