Latest update: February 13th, 2014
By the time this article appears in print, I will have reached a major milestone birthday. While it isn’t the one that labels me a “senior” citizen, I am, nonetheless, definitely decades away from the time I was a “junior” citizen, and while I guess I can still consider myself middle-aged, I don’t think I fall into the “middle” middle age category, rather I am encroaching the tail end of it.
My reaction to this particular birthday is reminiscent of my mindset the first time a stranger – I think it was an official at a government office – called out “Mrs. Kupfer.” I remember turning around puzzled, wondering what my mother-in-law was doing there since I was the one with the appointment. I looked around and did not see her and was perplexed when Mrs. Kupfer was called again.
At that moment came the sudden realization, “Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?”
Yes, he was, and just like I had a very hard time wrapping it around my head that I was Mrs. Kupfer, so too I am having difficulty absorbing the fact that this new number, the one placing me in a new decade, applies to me!
My mother and her peers were the ones that age – how is it possible that I am? Did I enter a time warp in the Twilight Zone?
No, a look at my birth certificate confirms that the number is accurate. Time never stood still for anyone – why would I be the exception? In my hubris, I thought that somehow I would live forever – and I suspect we all have secretly felt that way, even though we know it’s a fantasy.
But we baby boomers, realistically or not, love to re-invent ourselves, and so we insist to ourselves and all others in earshot, that it’s just a number. We may as well be 45, we like to convince ourselves as we stare in the mirror, pulling in our stomach and attributing the crow’s feet and bags under our eyes to the normal outcome of going to bed late or indulging at a simcha. Things will look better tomorrow. (Somehow that tomorrow never comes – we still look pretty much like we did yesterday! The puffiness under our eyes is still there, and the pulled-in stomach still protrudes over our pantyhose.)
Thinking we still look 45 is rather delusional on our part.
But it doesn’t have to be.
We can look and, most importantly, feel younger and be younger – still agile, stronger and cheerful!
For there is a two-tiered “fountain of youth” available to us – all we have to do is jump in!
One tier can make people appear younger on the outside. This fountain’s “magical waters” consist of makeup, cosmetic surgery that includes facelifts and eyelifts; liposuction; injected natural fillers; teeth whitening; dental implants to replace missing teeth; laser treatments to get rid of spots; creams, potions and lotions, etc.
But there is an element of risk involved anytime someone “goes under the knife” and these measures are temporary and need to be repeated. They create the illusion of being younger, one that is at odds with how you actually come across if you are physically unfit.
There is your actual age and there is your comparative age, and thus there are people in their 40’s who may as well be over 70 in terms of their health and the function of their heart and lungs. Conversely, there are individuals in their 80’s and 90’s who physically have the health of those who are decades younger than them.
For these men and women, age is truly a number that is meaningless.
So how do “young” seniors slow down, even wind back their biological clock? They do so by “immersing” themselves in the other tier of the fountain of youth – they exercise on a regular basis and ensure they remain at a relatively appropriate weight.
No matter how youthful your face may look due to cosmetic intervention, if you have low energy, and are flabby and bloated, you will across as “oldish.” Clothing that is tznisdik can hide those jiggly arms and heavy legs, but they don’t cover the slow gait, the shortness of breath after climbing three flights of stairs or the fact that you cancel plans because you are just too tired to put yourself together and go out.
Just like breast milk is the perfect food for infants, exercise in its various forms is life enhancing for young and old alike. Its benefits are multifold, as it augments and boosts one’s physical, emotional and metal stamina and strength.
Exercise rejuvenates and reinforces both body and soul, thereby delaying the ravages of time.
Several medical studies show that exercise can chase away the “blues” and improve your mood – just like an anti-depressant.
After working out, I usually feel more energized and thus more empowered to deal with whatever stresses are part and parcel of daily life: the annoying, fleeting ones, like a delayed flight, and the more complicated, long-term ones like a sick relative or friend. Life‘s challenges seem more surmountable when you feel imbued with vigor and optimism.
Getting into the habit of working out can seem quite daunting. However, if you look at exercise as a mitzvah, something that you are obligated to do, it can help get you started. Think of it like davening. I am sure many men would love to sleep an extra hour instead of dragging themselves out of bed and going to minyan in the morning, but they know that this is what they need to do, and so they exert themselves and go to shul. At some point, it becomes relatively effortless. If you tell yourself you must set aside at least half an hour several times a week to do some form of exercise – even if it’s something as simple as walking – then it will be something that will become second nature to you and not a chore.
You can use this attitude to help you lose weight as well. Consider the sugar and fat laden muffin you are tempted to eat as being treif. Just like you won’t run into a fast food place and get a cheeseburger and fries, viewing the muffin as being non-kosher will help you push it away.
I know deprivation doesn’t necessarily work, so a doable option is to pretend that eating the whole item is treif, that it’s “kosher” to just have a small amount of the high-caloric item you wish to devour. A taste is permissible, eating it all is not.
The Torah is very clear that we have to “watch over our souls” doing what we can to extend our lives, even if it means not fasting on Yom Kippur if it is life-threatening. So framing exercise and moderate eating as a mitzvah is not so far-fetched.
You will feel better – and your simchas hachayim will increase – because of the new and improved “younger” version of you!
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