The oldest of the nation’s 79 million baby boomers will begin turning 60 in only three months.
So the timing is right for the latest book by Andrew Weil, the Tucson physician known for his pioneering work integrating Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. Weil wrote many successful books including, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being, out last week.
Weil spoke with USA TODAY’s Janet Kornblum from his Arizona desert home not only about medicine, but also about attitudes on aging.
Dr Andrew Weil Talks About Aging
Q: There are so many books on aging out there. Why do we need one more? And what is different about this book?
A: I found most are written from the perspective of anti-aging and that bothers me. Aging is a natural process and inevitable. The baby boomers are soon going to be in the ranks of the oldest people. I don’t think they’re going to put up with the stereotyped roles of old people that have been held out to previous generations. It’s the right time for this book to come along.
Q:What does it mean to age gracefully?
A: It means acceptance of the aging process and adapting to the changes aging brings which may mean changing the kinds of physical activity that you do, and focusing on and trying to discover, for yourself, the value of aging. What are the areas in your life in which things get better with age? And it means doing whatever you can to reduce the risk of age-related disease.
Q: What has improved for you with age?
A: I’m calmer. I have a great deal of experience. I’m not as driven in many ways as I was when I was younger. I have very good friends that I’ve had over a long period of time. I think I’ve accumulated wisdom through experience.
Q: So what’s the downside to aging?
A: I don’t have the physical energy and stamina that I did when I was in my 20s and 30s. I don’t have the resilience that I did. I certainly have some more aches and pains. I don’t sleep as soundly.
Q: Your book is full of recommendations on how to age successfully. If you had 30 seconds in an elevator to give someone advice on what to do to age successfully, what would you tell them?
A: Learn the principles of healthy eating, increase physical activity, learn to breathe properly, try to learn another language, spend more time in the company of people who have lifestyle habits you want to develop, and think about the rewards that aging can bring.
Q: You tell people to slow down with age. But you also tell people to stay active. Is there a contradiction?
A: There’s a difference between acceptance of a natural and inevitable process and lying down and giving up. Acceptance of aging can be something that’s positive, joyful, enthusiastic. It isn’t rolling over and waiting for life to crush you.
I’m all for people being active and vigorous, but it’s important to be able to let go of things as you change. What is appropriate earlier in life may not be appropriate later in life. For example, I’ve seen so many men, let’s say in their 40s, who refuse to stop playing basketball, something they did in their youth even though they’re clearly getting messages from their knees, from injuries, that this is not what they’re supposed to be doing anymore. If they ignore those messages, there is a very high risk for serious injury, which is going to prevent them from doing any kind of activity.
Q: Do people have to cut out all sugar, caffeine, alcohol and meat and go to the gym every day to age successfully?
A: I think you can have a diet that’s pleasurable that promotes optimum health the Mediterranean diet. And I don’t think you have to kill yourself with exercise routines. … You just want to be physically active all your life.
Q: In your book, you are adamantly against people who promise that they can reverse aging. And yet you have just partnered with Origins to produce a skin-care line with your name.
A: The products I helped develop with Origins are anti-inflammatory skin-care products intended to improve the health, natural resistance and appearance of skin. They absolutely are not and are not represented to be anti-aging products.
Q:You talk about a lot of ways people could age successfully diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, relaxation, supplements. What’s most important?
A: I don’t know that there’s one, but I would say diet, physical activity and stress reduction, and social/intellectual connectedness. Not in any particular order.
Q: How should we as a culture adapt to our aging society?
A: I would like to see a changed value placed on aging. At the moment, the most damaging perception out there is that the worth of life diminishes with aging that old people don’t count. That has to change. (Old people) can be attractive. They can be sexy. They can be beautiful without concealing the fact of their age.