Not Older – Better!

Getting older is a reality for everyone, yet in our youth-obsessed culture ageing has been treated like a disease rather than a natural part of life.

The quest to look forever young, or at least younger than our biological age, has become like the search for the Holy Grail. What can we buy, or do, which will hold back the years, give us the energy of a 25 year old, re-vitalise our love life and make us as desirable as we were in those first
Heady month of a relationship ?

When we try to remain young at any cost, it literally can start costing us our relationships, our intimacy, damage our self-confidence and even affect our health. Aging men often panic as their sexual vitality wanes and the reality of their ageing bodies confronts them. The solution can often be pure escapism: buying that mid-life motorbike, taking up an adventurous sport, a flash, fast car or having an affair.

For women the confrontations of ageing and a loss of their youthful attractiveness often hit their self-esteem hard. At a certain point every women realizes that they cannot use their youth to cajole men anymore. As women age they become more invisible, particularly their representation in popular culture.

As a sex and relationship therapist, my clients often identify their age as the barrier stopping them from enjoying life to the full. My client Katrina, in her late 30s, recently told me that she is too old to change careers and follow her passion. She confided to me that her mother has reinforced this belief because she disregarded her own ambitions for the same reason. Another client, Janice, 55, has had a face-lift and looks as if she is in her mid 30’s, but still tells me she feels so old and that this affecting her self-esteem. We touch on the painful truth, that she is using her appearance as a way of avoiding the rift in intimacy that has developed between herself and her husband.

Roger, a successful businessman in his 40s, feels a failure because his wife has just left him because they grew apart. He believes they stopped communicating and blames his overweight body as the basis to his unhappiness. He feels he is too old to go back into the dating scene and has become depressed at being suddenly single.

It is unfortunately common for me to see clients whose partner has left them for someone much younger. This dynamic taps into our fear of ageing, and the distressing situation where we feel we are in competition with a ‘younger, fresher’ foe.

My client Barbara came to see me because her 45 year old husband had run off with his 27 year old secretary. As a result she has tried to up-date her physical appearance, including having botox, yet she still feels ‘old’.

When we looked on a deeper level at what had happened in her marriage, it became clear that years earlier they had stopped spending time together in any meaningful way. There had been a slow drift away from intimacy, which ultimately led to the marriage breaking down. It was this, rather than just the youthful allure of her husband’s secretary which was the likely case of their split.

To keep sexual interest alive – and the intimacy that it builds- in long-term relationships it takes a commitment to be creative. We think nothing of planning a dinner party with friends but leave love making to a quickie before sleep. As we age our sexual responses take longer and we need more time for foreplay, touch and sensuality to kick start our libido.

Massage, deep-breathing that we automatically do when we become turned on and love making, become ways for positive hormones to be released. Endorphins released when we have an orgasms enhance the immune system, relieve pain, reduce stress and postpone the ageing process. Recent studies by Candace Pert, Ph. D. at Johns Hopkins University USA, has documented that the production of endorphins increase 200% from sexual activity. While Obstetrician Michel Odent from London’s Primal Health Research Centre, whose book The Scientification of Love, states that love making bonds couples through the release of natural opiates.

A 10 year study by Dr David Weeks, author of Secrets of the Super Young, found that long term couples who had sex four to five times a week looked more than 10 years younger than couples who had sex twice a week.

It seems that pleasure derived from love-making is a crucial factor in remaining young. I have watched couples that have re-bonded in their 50’s and 60’s by changing the expectation that sex should be like it was in their youth. Instead they put time aside for being held, stroked and introducing loving touch that developed sexual and emotional intimacy. I could see their blossoming in how they felt about themselves and a natural rejuvenation followed. Joani blank’s book Still Doing It Women & men Over 60, draws on countless interviews that support that sexual pleasure keeps expanding in the golden age.

Someone with a different perspective on how to age externally is Eva Fraser. Based in the UK her books and DVD’s specialies in non-surgical face-lifts through a series of facial exercise. At 77 years old she looks decades younger, believing that facial muscle tone is the key. Janet aged 63, a friend who has introduced me to these exercises and does not have any lines on her face.

She works in a competitive youthful industry and has told me that these exercises have helped her improve her self-esteem and confidence. She feels her vitality inside is reflected when people naturally take her for being much younger.

Dr Andrew Weil’s book Healthy Aging uses mentors such as Paul Newman aged 80, Colin Powell aged 68, Philip Roth aged 72, and Lauren Bacall aged 81, Martha Stewart and Joan Baez aged 64 and Pulitzer and Nobel winner Toni Morrison aged 74, as inspiration. He believes that a holistic approach of diet, exercise and meditation all help us appreciate the benefits of wisdom that comes with maturity.

Middle-aged clients who have come to see me about their flagging sex life have often gone away to address life style and diet issues. The CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing Diet has been on Australia’s top selling book list for months because it is not a quick fix to a total make over, but an education in diet.

For centuries the people of Okinawa in Japan have known the importance of diet. They have the highest number of centurians per capita ever recorded. The Okinawan low calorie, unrefined-complex carbohydrate diet is now being studied in the West and its simplicity – basically yams, leafy greens, sea vegetables and only a small amount of protein (e.g. soy and fish).  The focus is eating until you are 80% full, drinking alcohol moderately as well as exercising daily.

But the Okinawan’s diet is not the only answer to their remarkable longevity. On this Japanese island the social structure is basically the extended family, with strong social integration and deep spiritual values. There is a high level of social support; older people are seen as an important part of the community. The centurions have an optimistic attitudes are adaptable and have an, easy- going approach to life.

In India the Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle that has been practiced for 6,000 years and has been popularized in the West by healer Deepak Chopra, who said:

“Most people think that aging is irreversible and we know that there are mechanisms even in the human machinery that allow for the reversal of aging, through correction of diet, through anti-oxidants, through removal of toxins from the body, through exercise, through yoga and breathing techniques, and through meditation. Most people believe that aging is normal but nobody defines what normal aging is.”

Dr Joshi has used this Ayurvedic philosophy in a 21-day holistic detox program that has been followed by celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fienness to Kate Moss.

He believes that ageing is the result of our high-pressured stressful life style with bad eating habits and little exercise. His book looks at the importance of creating balance through eating for your metabolic body type.

The results are clear, the more we remain active and aware of what we eat, the longer we live. The other crucial component is companionship and social interaction. Research through Flinders University’s Department of Rehabilitation and Aged Care found that having friends and a social network enhances an elderly person’s self-esteem and psychological wellbeing.

The elixir of youth is not a miracle drug or make over but a balance of diet, life style, friendship and a love of life.