Photo: Deepak Bhatia
THE KITEBOARD LAUNCHED high into the air, its rider twisting with agile grace to make the landing. Watching from shore, I lamented on my lack of youth, ability, and iffy knee from an old injury.
Imagine my surprise when the kiteboarding master finally landed on the sandy beach and removed his helmet and wetsuit to reveal a man easily my father’s age. Once again, life on the road was teaching me a thing or two about “normal” aging.
I am no spring chicken, although with birthday 50 just months away I certainly don’t consider myself old. However, when I was still slaving away in my 9-5, commuting, cubicle life, I often felt old. I would drag myself out of bed to the squawk of the alarm, stiff and feeling anything other than enthusiasm to start the day. So I left. I sold it all and I ran away, searching for my more authentic self out on the road.
Fast forward 393 days. 393 days of a life nomadic spent exploring Mexico and Guatemala. 393 days of spending time with a whole lot of people who are often older than me but live life with a spring in their step and a light in their eyes. 393 days spent attempting to emulate my labradors’ boundless enthusiasm for life.
The secret of youth: It’s not really a secret
What exactly is the secret to super aging? How is it that some manage to continue to be adventurous and active long after others succumb to old age? After spending endless hours asking groups of older travelers just that question I found that it’s really pretty simple. You know all of that advice that doctors recommend? Sleeping at least eight hours a night. Moving more and sitting less. Eating smaller portions and more produce. Yep, those “not so secret” secrets came up again and again.
One other BIG one; lack of stress. I am not sure I fully believe that life is that much more stressful than in decades past. Sure, the 21st century is speeding by, but many of the people I have camped with and talked with are old enough to remember wars and fuel shortages and harsh times of old. Having lived through all of those tough circumstances does not lend one to think that having too many social media commitments creates a stress filled life.
Having said that, the simple act of life on the road, whether as an ex-pat or a nomadic traveler such as myself lends itself to a completely different set of values. Less stressful values. In large part, I hit the road to rid myself of the stresses of life in the United States. I have no interest in following the societal norm that seems to constantly require more. More house, more money, more things. I wanted to minimalize, simplify, downgrade to what I considered a reasonable level. I wanted my life to emulate those cultures where life and work are braided together rather than the “living for the weekend” mentality mine had become.
Life lived outside of my home culture often requires a mental shift in regards to time and space. Manana here in Mexico certainly doesn’t really mean tomorrow in spite of its definition. It might mean tomorrow but it might mean in a few days, when they have time, or never. This sort of dichotomy of thought proved stressful in the beginning, but overtime it created the most amazingly relaxed sense of time.
When Dan Buettner first did research to write his bestselling book The Blue Zones his findings were ground breaking. It seemed inconceivable that entire groups of people in certain areas could experience such healthy old age and extended life expectancy. These studies showed that five particular regions of the world had an exceptionally high percentage of the population that not only lived longer than the average, but were much healthier. Further analysis showed that these areas had nine common characteristics among residents including such common denominators as living an active lifestyle, volunteering, social interaction and eating smaller portions.
And yet, from what I have discovered, his theories are right on. Nearly every person I have met on the road that is active far beyond the norm for their age back home. I camped with dozens age 70 and above for months in Baja and two of my favorite people have the energy of 20somethings. Their mornings begin with a walk on the beach followed by biking to pickle ball after which a dance class is sometimes thrown in for good measure. Afternoons involve kiteboarding, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding followed by happy hour, often dinner involving at least someone else from camp, and an evening ended with a competitive game of Mexican Train. In all of our time together I was continually inspired by their zest for life.
Social interaction is part of that key and truly what a difference my life on the road has been. In my old life I would return home after a day at the office exhausted and wanting to hide away in the peace and serenity of my abode. Now mornings are spent greeting everyone both other campers and locals alike. Happy hour gatherings draw in the entire campground or neighborhood. Dinners can easily become potlucks shared around a campfire.
Travel keeps you young
For myself, one strong pull in moving away from my home country to follow the world was a desire to move away from the culture of over-prescribing. As I watched my parents, and my in-laws, and even friends near my age, be diagnosed with diabetes and cancer and high blood pressure and a host of other ills the answer seemed always in the form of a prescription pad. I encouraged them to change their diet or lifestyle but, quite simply, life revolving around popping a pill just seems too convenient. I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted and I love the fact that I now daily encounter those who embrace a lifestyle not simply a prescription.
Previous travels to India had already cemented my thoughts on the interconnectivity of mind-body-soul all working in harmony as taught in the Ayurveda practice. I now practice yoga at least 4-5 times per week and am more flexible and more in tune with my inner zen than ever before.
Expats and long term travelers alike may very well hold the key for all of us to become case studies for the next Blue Zone diet. Certainly family life in a two-parent working home with kids activities, commutes, and the other challenges of daily like take a huge toll on this type of lifestyle. But by consciously choosing to incorporate at least some of the foundations of superagers into your own life a better future awaits.