Blue Zone diets, surgery and confidence: Are you ageing correctly?

Here’s a quick quiz for you: guess the ages of these celebrities? Or, at least peg them to a decade.

Go… Emma Watson, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, and Selena Gomez?*

They all look fit, healthy and radiate an inner beauty. You could say they’ve aged well – albeit with help from chefs and surgeons. But, still, these stars prove that ageing is much more than a number. Their on-screen achievements and off-screen lifestyles (kids, charities, marriages, divorces etc) validate lives well lived.

Getting older is as guaranteed as Kim Kardashian’s love of fillers, so if ageing brings wisdom and intelligence, why are we petrified of it showing on our faces and bodies?

Why do we spend $100 a pop on the latest fandangled wellness powder? Why do we fork-out millions in face creams and fillers and fancy sheet masks? US research reveals the fight against ageing is starting younger, with one in five women stressing about wrinkles before they’ve reached their mid-twenties.

Men, too, have been a beauty industry target in recent years. So, how can you feel better about hitting 25 or 35 or 45 (with or without a shot of Botox)? How do you age “correctly”?

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What’s your ageing type?

Look, maybe you’re A-okay with it all, but for others there’s a niggle and then there’s actual anxiety. “Ageing anxiety describes negative feelings associated with growing older, including physical, psychological, social, and transpersonal losses,” says Jill Chonody, an Associate Professor of Social Work at Boise State University, US.

“Fears related to physical losses include: changes in health and functional abilities, such as being diagnosed with a disease…anxiety about physical changes also comprises those shifts in outward appearance, such as loss of hair or wrinkles.”

The simple fact is everyone ages differently. We all know a friend who pulls off 25 when they’re actually 35, and vice versa. When it comes to our health, scientists are still trying to figure out why some body’s age faster.

The Stanford University School of Medicine white coats found four different biological ageing pathways known as “ageotypes” – metabolic (higher rates of diabetes etc), immunity, hepatic (that’s to do with your liver function) and nephrotic (kidney function). Pinpoint which one you are, and you’ll be more empowered to prevent and slow down a certain ageing process, they say.

Saving face

Let’s talk about the bits that advertise our age. In many ways, our society’s quest for eternal youth has taught us to see wisdom as a weakness. Australia is a plastic positive nation – each year, we spend $1 billion on cosmetic procedures. That’s a lot of money folks, a staggering 40 per cent more than our American friends (once you do the sums per capita that is).

“Anxiety around ageing and the negative impact it has on our looks is common,” says University of Melbourne psychiatrist, Dr Katherine Campbell.

“Youth and beauty are strongly associated with health and happiness. We see this on social media, advertising campaigns, TV, magazines, and celebrity profiles. Marketing of products and programs to keep ourselves looking as young as possible, for as long as possible, is inescapable. The good news is that scientific research, including our own research – which assessed Melbourne women over 20 years – shows that women actually get happier as they age.”

Do you want to celebrate ageing with signs of a life well lived, or by staying as beautifully youthful as can be? Or a mix of both? Do you want a body that’s strong into your 70s, or one you can barely lift off the couch?

How to age well…

When it comes to genetics or lifestyle, it takes two to tango and experts agree living a clean lifestyle trumps inherited risks. Making smart health decisions – adequate sleep and human connection – will knock off years. With food, take a cue from the centenarians living in Blue Zones (areas in the world with the highest number of people living past 100). The best foods they eat: beans, greens, root vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Ageing gains over ageing ‘losses’

Tory Archbold is the founder of Powerful Steps and through her own experience and podcast, Powerful Stories, (she interviews women about their highs and lows) has learnt that with age comes freedom.

“In my 20s, I didn’t consider ageing,” says Archbold. “I had my daughter Bella at 31 and I was juggling being a single mum with running a global PR business placing everyone else’s needs before my own. My wake-up call came when my appendix burst and I contracted septicaemia. I had lost sight of the most valuable asset of all – my health. When I started stripping the ‘noise’ out of my life, I looked and felt decades younger. With my 40s came freedom. The truth is, when you believe in life anything is possible, and strip out what no longer serves you, you have the ability to age with grace. I still invest in good skincare, but most importantly I invest in myself.”

Dr Campbell says we also need to shift our focus to “ageing gains” over losses. “Pay attention to the people around us: what are the daily things that make them happy? Our parents and colleagues will offer a more meaningful insight into what is really important as we grow older.”

“Ageing as an ascending staircase”

At the end of the day, ageing correctly comes down to this – you do it however you want to do it (botox shot or not). Or, as the forever inspiring 82-year-old, Jane Fonda, puts it: “The old paradigm was: You’re born, you peak at midlife, and then you decline into decrepitude. [Look] at ageing as ascending a staircase, you gain wellbeing, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate and a life with intention.”

* Jennifer Lopez is 51. Reese Witherspoon is 44. Emma Watson is 30. Selena Gomez is 28.

Felicity Harley’s book Balance & Other B.S, is out now. Follow her on Instagram for more.

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