What worries you about getting older? Germans worry about losing their mental alertness, while the Dutch don’t want to gain weight, according to a 2007 survey conducted by GfK Roper Consulting, an international market research firm. Thais want to retain their eyesight. Americans have four fears: losing their energy, becoming dependent on others, losing their memory, and gaining weight.
Although the specifics vary by culture, the underlying fear is universal: losing some aspect of physical well-being. Many people assume that’s inevitable, but we are learning that lifestyle plays a larger role than previously thought in how we age — for example, losing mobility or muscle mass, or gaining weight.
This is good news because we can alter our lifestyle to avoid or slow some of the negative consequences of aging. Knowing that we can make choices today that will shape our future helps free us from our fear of aging.
Whatever your age, size, or station in life, fitness must be a priority. Whatever your circumstances, strive for fitness. The acronym FEAST summarizes this philosophy: Fitness at Every Age, Size, and Time of life. My daily choices do matter. Regular exercise can slow and even prevent age-related changes in my brain, numerous studies show. And keeping my weight at a reasonable level improves my chances of warding off life-threatening illnesses.
Alluring ads for the latest weight-loss schemes make me realize the importance of focusing on fitness rather than dieting. Dieting is like riding on a train that loops around in circles before stopping to let you off. Only then do you realize that you are standing in the same place where you boarded. Instantly, you know you were taken. Even so, waiting for the next train is tempting.
Forget the train ride. Buy a pedometer, and begin walking. If you take care of your body through regular exercise and careful eating, it will shape itself into the condition that best serves its needs. Won’t you join me at the table and celebrate the FEAST?
Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.