It is challenging to try to cover such a broad topic as aging over the decades. Each one of us is different and our lives reflect our own unique choices and belief systems. However, I do feel that sharing my thoughts on how to age well based on my experiences and making some of the suggestions I would make if you were my client is well worth the effort.
I am making recommendations – or suggestions as I call them – so that you can consider just what you might want to do about your own priorities – and values – going forward. I am not aware of anyone in my past giving me such valuable advice so it is with this thought in mind that I continue where I left off in PART I of this series.
What I learned from my 30s
In my 30s, I learned the hard way that change can come very unexpectedly and quickly, and that both mental and physical training are crucial to being able to handle all of the eventualities to the best of our abilities.
My life changed dramatically. Up until 1982 – just before my 35th birthday – my life post Air Force had been mediocre and I had become increasingly frustrated and confused about the path I had taken – professionally, personally and emotionally – but I had some kind of stability. The event that threw me off balance was a written note that my former wife left on the dining room table in June of 1982 stating that she had left me.
This triggered a chain reaction which came to a conclusion in 1989 when we finally divorced. This seven year period was one of turmoil, significant change, and one that spanned to my mid 40s. The upheaval included financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, personal, professional, and every other form of stress imaginable.
My inner and outer life changed dramatically. I found a spiritual path in 1985 that I still follow today. In the same summer, I discovered the benefits of writing and speaking as well. On the other hand, my physical wellbeing remained relatively unchanged because of my choice to join my first gym in 1982 (new classes and relationships were added to my life) – and my running program kept me alive – and focused – on something I had grown to love.
The regret, guilt, anger, resentment – and so much more from this period in my life such as trying to stay connected to my daughter who started college, were most trying and difficult to navigate, but I gathered my thoughts (and all the strength I could muster) to start learning about me. I spent time re-evaluating and studying my habit and thought patterns – and my behavior – to try and understand and find the cause of my unhappiness with myself. I had to change my attitude about how I viewed myself and whether I could finally accept and love myself unconditionally in order to change my life. This, as it turned out, was the greatest challenge of my life and I KNEW I was up to it!
In the end, the decision to become a fitness professional in 1990 was the best one I could have made because it allowed me to “take a step back” and see the world through the eyes of my clients who were very often struggling with issues that were at least as complicated as mine – and in many ways more painful as well.
When I say that our world can change in an instant – believe me – because my ex-wife’s note was a game changer for me. I have never been the same since that day as I embarked on a journey of self – discovery that has yielded many positive and wonderful insights into who I am as a person – and what would constitute happiness for me. The lessons I learned during this period of my life have stayed with me to this very day and I consider myself a student not only of life – but MY life as well.
Some suggestions for your 30s
- If you haven’t yet figured out who you are and whom you want to be, give yourself a break.
- DO consider your priorities, values and the choices you are making in your life and see if they are working for you – and if they are not – start making changes NOW.
- Find the path in life that is right for you and invest your time and energy into making it “come to life”. The mistakes you make during this period of your life can take years to correct.
- If you have a comprehensive financial, personal, and professional plan, well done! If not, this is the time to really dig in and develop one.
- Check your habits of thought and review your comfort zones – we all have them. Are they serving you or are you serving them?
- In your 30s REALLY get your heart pumping and find your “aerobic niche” – the thing that brings you joy to do regularly like walking, swimming, cycling, hiking, running or any activity that has you vigorously exercising your heart – and your body. You will need that strength in the decades ahead.
- Finally, begin building your strength and power not to become “old before your time”. Strength training during your 30s is critical to your future health and fitness. I began weight training again in 1982 just before my 35th birthday and it has proved to be a great foundation on which I built a life of physical and emotional wellbeing. Being strong mentally and physically go hand in hand.
What I learned from my 40s
My 40’s settled me down. I was in “service mode” and happier because of the friendships and relationships that formed over this time in my life. My running and weightlifting programs were working well for me and other than the occasional pulled muscle or periodic low back spasms – my life was working better for me. I gave classes on fitness at the club I worked for and found my “stride” as a trainer and health coach. I became more comfortable in my own skin and found that helping others helped me.
My thought processes changed to a consciousness of being “useful” while serving the “greater good”. I also observed that I was aging differently from all the people I was training and when I examined my life from that perspective I started realizing I had found my purpose. It would be another decade before I acknowledged this revelation in the form of my book “Healthy Aging & You” but at least I knew I had found “something” through my work as a fitness professional.
My choice to leave marketing behind and embrace the path of the fitness professional had opened the door to a new world of possibility and I felt great gratitude for the lessons I had learned in my 30’s and 40’s. My love of fitness had come back to inspire me to new levels of belief in and a love for myself – and that was priceless to me.
Some suggestions for your 40s
By the time we hit our 40’s, everything becomes more difficult, especially if we have led a sedentary life. “Catching up” for more than two or three decades of inattention and inactivity is very difficult – but not impossible. This is the age range at which most of the clients I served came to me for help and guidance. The common issues I saw were joint problems, weight gain and dietary issues, surgeries, injuries, illnesses – both chronic and acute – and mental and emotional baggage from years of neglect. It was a lot to address but at least there was a desire to change or they wouldn’t have “bought me”.
My general “advice is DON’T go into your 40s unprepared”! Be conscious of what you are doing in the decades leading up to this important stage of your life. These are the years where you can lengthen – or shorten – your life. The risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and other catastrophic eventualities become REAL during this decade. The prevention model of getting tested for illnesses is only partially effective if we don’t do our part and care for ourself when changes inevitably come into our life.
DO continue to explore your potential physically, mentally and spiritually. This is a time for reflection and understanding about your self and your life. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How are your choices working out for you?
- How thoughtful have you been when it comes to making decisions and addressing the challenges in your life?
- How fit are you?
- Are you continuing to grow physically and mentally – and spiritually?
Be active. Take care of yourself by giving yourself an opportunity to BE – and not just DO. Any symptons of discomfort or disease are important and must not be ingnored. Heart attack, stroke and other critical medical possibilities may appear without warning so becoming effective at managing the stresses in our life is crucial during our 40s. Pay attention and be proactive and finally create balance in your life and spend time time with those you love. This choice alone will pay off handsomely in the years ahead.
When you examine your life from the perspective of more than four decades of living you can see things that at the time seemed unrelated and confusing but in retrospect make perfect sense. This is how I see my decision to leave the Air Force, change professions and rebuild my life. This is how I know that if I had stayed in the military I would not have faced the trials that I did in my life and I would not have become the person I am today.
I am living proof that REAL change is possible if we embrace the REALITY of our life and NOT fight with our ‘self’, if we learn the lessons we are being given and MOVE ON!
Click the links below to continue reading this series:
Healthy Aging by the decades: Your 50s
Healthy Aging by the decades: Your 60s