In our twenties, we allow excess. In our thirties, we begin to calibrate risks and weigh them out accordingly. In our forties, we begin to moderate (if we're smartly informed). In our fifties, we lessen. Pretty much everything - food intake, sun exposure, risky behavior of all sorts that didn't seem a very big deal ten years ago but now may possibly cause premature death or dismemberment (this is a good time to check the rider on your life/auto insurance policy). After that, it's all genetics and gravity. I don't buy into the concept of luck - it's lazy. What can we do to fight this somewhat frightening genetics/gravity duo? Get rid of the accumulated bad habits of the past and not start any new ones after age 40.
Why these age markers? Why pull yourself out of the bad habit muck at age 40 and not at the age of 30? We probably should start turning things around at 30, but we aren't motivated enough at that point, mainly due to simple math: we have not arrived at the "half-way" point yet. Most of us still haven't experienced the death of a loved one at age 30. Others in their 30s are simply - albeit irritatingly - in denial and still acting like they are in their twenties. (If you are not on a softball or baseball team, this is the time to stop wearing the hat.) There is no motivation, no innate desire yet to self-preserve. When you arrive at 40, you are there. You are now looking in the mirror at the half-way point between birth and death. (Unless you grow up to be like my friend Lynn's dad, who is 101 and still mowing the lawn, but he's Italian, so....of course.)
At exactly the age of 40, body parts/pieces started falling off and wearing out - as my hair and my eyes. (Hair falling out; eyes wearing out). One day, I could feel my hair cascading down my back. I had/have a lot of hair, which is the genetic blessing, but I used to have much, much more of it. I would look at the floor with my 20/20 vision eyes and see hair everywhere - all over the floors, all over the house. And then, seemingly overnight, my eyes weren't 20/20 any longer. Suddenly, I needed reading glasses to see the teeny-tiny font of a Vanity Fair magazine. This, after never, ever needing glasses of any kind except the ones to keep the sun from blinding me. (Brown-eyed people don't understand the necessity of sunglasses. They think they are a fashion accessory.) What's the bad habit here? I had never been to the eye doctor. Not once. Had I gone for a simple check-up in my 30s, there would have been less stress for me to endure the year I turned 40 and started losing hair while squinting at it on the floor. You could say that a lifelong bad habit up to that point was avoiding doctors in general. (This is exactly why my Bhadra Yoga softball team t-shirt says "Flight Risk" on the back.)
At a cellular level, too, we begin to surrender to the gravitational pull. This cellular decline begins at age 30. There is a Sanskrit word "ojas" which means "vigor" and represents the life force of energy in both our bodies and minds. Babies are saturated with ojas, which is probably why we feel such a desire to cuddle them and smell the tops of their heads and kiss their plump cheeks. Ojas protects the health and vitality of cells. In Ayurvedic medicine - an ancient practice from India which lovingly holds hands with Yoga - ojas is given quite a bit of attention. The goal is to protect and strengthen it as we age via a clean, wholefoods diet along with exercise, spiritual practices, etc., in accordance with our particular body type and mental temperament. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach. Unlike intermittent fasting, the "Whole-30" or the Keto-diet, Ayurveda is a way of life, not a dietary fad to be experimented with here and there. There is no Ayurvedic breakfast bar in aisle 12.
The gradual oxidation of our cells is like the gradual rusting of metal. (Remember when our cars weren't made out of plastic?) Cancer cells are always lurking there in our bodies; this 30-year turning point is when they might get out of control, depending on your habits combined with your genetic toggle switch and whether or not it gets turned on. (More math). Have your heard of the term "free radicals?" These are unstable molecules in the body responsible for aging and tissue damage, making our cellular membranes vulnerable to decay and pathogens. Free radicals are not genetically predisposed - they are created by our bad habits in the category of oral intake: smoking, drinking alcohol, taking recreational or pharmaceutical drugs, eating meat (especially harmful is barbecued, processed and charred meat), sugar, and in the category of exposure: sun damage, and other forms of radiation exposure. All of these factors contribute to the acceleration of aging - or cellular degeneration.
What about mental health? Bad habits of the mind result in self-doubt, guilt, PTSD, depression, hatred of oneself or others, egocentric-thinking (egocentrism), narcissism, and wrong-thinking, leading to the harm of others. Antioxidants reduce the rate of oxidation of free radicals. Where do we find antioxidants? In fruits and vegetables. What are the "antioxidants of the mind?" Positive thinking. Meditation, Right-thinking. Yoga is a life of self-discipline based on the tenets of 'simple living and high thinking.' The body is a vehicle for the soul, having specific requirements which must be fulfilled for it to function optimally. Metaphorically speaking, we must change the oil, check the battery, heating and cooling systems, and make sure the driver behind the wheel is not texting while driving. The simple and natural system of yoga involves five main principles:
1) Proper Exercise (Asanas)
2) Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
3) Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
4) Proper Diet (Vegetarian - yes, I said it)
5) Positive Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana)
How do we begin to get rid of the bad habits? It is not enough to feel a smattering of motivation because so-and-so celebrity is doing the intermittent fasting routine. You have to set a personal goal. You have to want it really badly. If you go in for a check-up because you are tired all the time, and the doctor finds two out of three of your arteries fully clogged, you are going to want to give up the bad habits really badly. Why are we waiting for that kind of drama? If you are addicted to said bad habit, it's all the more difficult to break it. In the documentary, Pretend it's a City, Fran Lebowitz states a Truth: "No one becomes addicted to something with that as the goal." So give yourself a break. But let's not create any new bad habits while we are hard at the task of breaking the old ones.