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The Art of Aging Gracefully

By Amanda McQuade Crawford

I am not anti-aging, personally: I am for aging well. I have compassion for frantic men and women who pay to turn “back the clock,” so to speak. Did you know the global market for anti-aging products is projected to be an estimated US $275 billion in 2013? Countless high-priced remedies could be named in this article; but instead let’s focus on the value of humble diet, lifestyle and counseling choices available to all, and not endangered or expensive treasures.

Aging Well

What Is Aging Gracefully?

The great philosopher-psychologist Erik Erikson wrote that from cradle to grave, we have stages of growth. Some of us skip stages that challenge us but late-life growth continues to enrich us and our world. It’s only our peculiar youth-centered culture that ridicules the old. When we turn our gaze away from the commercial media message, we find the joke is on those who still buy that.

The maturity to integrate, reflect, and organize life experience is how we enjoy great contentment. This deep joy is not accessible to the fast and furious young. From age 40 on, we create positive change that will outlast us, according to Erikson’s theory. Until death, he suggested, “success” means our own style of reflection on life; “despair is the enemy of wisdom.”

Diet, Lifestyle and More

Both Erikson and contemporary researchers find that people who age gracefully eat all kinds of diets and practice many types of self-care. What they have in common are three qualities: they respect themselves and pay attention to changing needs, there is a common thread of finding where their life force is valued, and they hope for a happy ending. Our inevitable physical death is not the enemy; it is a final task to be met with dignity.

Until I take my final bow, I am starting to revisit the time-honored wisdom of the herb healers. It is impossible to name favorite herbs for longevity (whether we are 39 or 109) without telling the truth: the “best” medicine is a base of healthy proteins that fit one’s constitution, heart-happy fats (avocado), and an emphasis on healthy carbohydrates (starches) from organic fruit and vegetables.

Add physical movement balanced with more naps, mental gymnastics (wordplay, number games), and spiritual growth (belly laughs, prayer, chakra meditation). Robyn Posin, PhD, asserts Rest is a sacred act ” (Posin RL 2012. Go Only as Fast as Your Slowest Part Feels Safe to Go. Compassionate Ink, Ojai, CA).

Aging Well Means “Living Well.”

As recently as September of 2013, Dean Ornish, MD, was the lead author of a small pilot study that shows what you may already have guessed: changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support may result in longer life.

Aging at a Cellular Level

Chromosome Telomere

To be exact: the study suggests that eating a healthy diet, as well as taking care of mind, body, and emotions lengthened telomeres in human chromosomes. The telomere is a part at the end of a chromosome that is thought to affect the aging process. This is because the length of the telomere usually shortens as we age.

Ornish and his colleagues at UCSF studied thirty-five men with prostate cancer for five years. Ten men from this group were asked to switch to a plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in fat and white flour, white sugar, and other refined carbohydrates.

These ten men were asked to take up moderate exercise: walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week and began practicing stress reduction such as gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, & meditation. They also began to receive weekly group support counseling.

“Significant” Telomere Length: Study Finds

After 5 years, these ten men were compared to the other 25 study participants who were not asked to make major lifestyle changes. The experiment group increased their telomere length by 10% over the course of just 5 years, a jump researchers call “significant.”

The researchers report the findings may not be limited to only men with prostate cancer – they are likely to be relevant to the general population. The authors also concluded that the more people improve lifestyle, “the more dramatic their improvements in telomere length” (published online Sept. 16, 2013 in The Lancet Oncology).

ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from

About Amanda: 

Amanda McQuade Crawford

Amanda McQuade Crawford, M.A. is an herbalist and clinical psychologist practicing integrative health care in Ojai, serving Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. An Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Boston, she sees patients and consults for the natural products industry on quality issues. Amanda is the author of three popular books on women’s health,

The Natural Menopause Handbook, Herbal Remedies for Women, and The Herbal Menopause Book, plus chapters in The HERBAL Guide: Dietary Supplement Resources for the Clinician, Traditional Medicines for Modern Times: Antidiabetic Plants, Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, and The New Menopause Book.

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