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March 6, 2017

Today is the Oldest You Have Ever Been and the Youngest You Will Ever Be

the youngest you will ever beToday is the Youngest You Will Ever Be

Today is the oldest you have ever been and the youngest you will ever be. That is kind of a weird thought, isn’t it? You will continue to get older, but you will never ever be younger than you are at this moment. So you have to take advantage of today. You can learn from yesterday, and plan for tomorrow, but today is the only day you get to live. So be sure to live it.

Each day is like exploring new territory, because you have never been that age before. You don’t know what to expect. Each day is new. And, that should make each day exciting. We should approach each day with eager anticipation. “Man, I can’t wait to see what happens today.”  But, I bet few of us look at that way. No instead, we say, “Ugh, another day of getting older.”

I commonly ask my patients how old or young they feel relative to their chronologic age. Many of them state that they feel 10-15 years younger than their age – especially in attitude or mindset.  A youthful mindset is critical to healthy aging. I’m not sure it is healthy to think or act your age. Acting and thinking your age is one sure way to get older with each passing day.

But, physically the body will and does slow down as we age, though some of that is preventable. The most obvious changes occur in the musculoskeletal system and in our skin. We lose height. Our joints begin to ache. And, our muscles become less flexible and weaker. We move with some hesitancy and uncertainty. Our posture succumbs to years of fighting gravity. We tend to leave this world as we entered it – in a fetal position.

Our skin begins to wrinkle and sag, as it too, succumbs to gravity.  Our skin begins to look old. We begin to look older.

When I ask my middle-aged sedentary patients to tell me how active they perceive themselves when they turn 60 or 70 I am frequently surprised. Many say they see themselves walking two miles a day or even going on hikes – things they are not currently doing. I ask them how they are going to be that active when that is already more than what they are doing?

And, that’s one take home message. It is highly unlikely that you will be doing more physically in your advance years than you are doing in your middle years. So if you plan on being active when you are older, you best be doing more today.

Attitude

But, for many of us, our minds can stay relatively nimble as we age. We cannot control the many negative physical changes that occur with aging, but we can control our attitude. We can always control our attitude.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel shares his story on how he survived Auschwitz during World War II by maintaining a positive attitude. His story is remarkable that all can draw inspiration from. His survival was a classic lesson in mind over matter.

Attitude is nearly everything. Maintain a positive attitude as you age.

As Viktor Frankel said, Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Yes, you are free to choose your attitude. So choose wisely. The attitude you choose will determine much of what happens to you and your level of happiness.

Be sure to set out your own way in life. It is never too late to do that. You can set your own way, set a new direction for your life, at any age. Start today if necessary.

Reach Your Full Potential

Attitude does not have to age and neither does our curiosity and desire to learn. Think young. Keep thinking of ideas. Be sure to spend time with the younger generations. That will help maintain a more youthful outlook and attitude.

Years ago (late 90s) I met a gentleman from Romania. He was friends with a female patient of mine and attended her office visits. He was massively built and reminded me of the Russian boxer in the Rocky movies. But, he had the heart of a gentle giant.

He was building an orphanage in Romania in connection with a nursing home. He found that having the younger and older generations mingle with each other helped both populations. The older generation benefited from the youth and vitality of the children, and the children found pseudo parents/grandparents among the elderly to help them mature and develop. We tend to isolate our elderly and clump them together in assisted living facilities and the such – I’m not sure that is healthy – maybe convenient, but not healthy.

One of his goals was to identify the ten percent of the orphans that he felt had a real chance at succeeding in life and ultimately find them a home in the United States where they would be free to reach their full potential. At one office visit he showed me a photo album showing homeless Romanian children living in sewers, resorting to drugs and prostitution, orphanages and medical clinics with dilapatated facilities, syringes and needles being used over an over again in medical facilities, and so on.  He said it is difficult to reach your full potential in socialist/communist countries (unless you are a part of the political elite) because the government controls so much of your life.

These orphans found themselves in similar situations as Viktor Frankel. Our Romanian was hoping a few of the orphans would survive and even thrive such an ordeal, and for them he wanted to give them a real chance at life and a chance to reach their full potential.

And, in a way that is what each day is all about – another day towards striving to reach your full potential.

Keep Learning

Keep learning. One of the best ways to stave off dementia is to keep learning something new  – and that could be physical.  Learning does not have to be all mental to improve the brain.Weight training has been shown to improve memory in elderly women because for many of them that is a new activity. Use your opposite hand to do daily tasks. That alone will help you create new neural connections that will keep your mind sharp.

Stay curious like a child. Marvel at the littlest of things. Ask ‘why’ and ‘how’. Maintain a youthful perspective tempered by the wisdom that comes from experience that comes from living and aging.

Since each passing day is the oldest any of us have ever been, each day brings potentially new challenges. You have never this old before. You do not know what it is like, or what to fully expect. You have no experience being age 50, 55, 60, or 70 before until you turn that age. That gives us reason enough to take on each day with a certain amount of curiosity and with a relatively “youthful” approach. “I’ve never been this age before. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m going to make it a great day.”

None of us master life. Life is a continuous learning experience. Remind yourself of that during the tough times.  Ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn from this situation.” We all make mistakes, but don’t fall in the trap of making the same mistake continuously.

Today is All You Have

You cannot change or relive yesterday and you cannot live tomorrow as tomorrow has not yet come. Today is the only day you can actually live. You have to live in the moment. One thing many people struggle with is having their mind in the same place as their body. Their body is on the beach in Florida, but their mind is in their office in Ohio. We tend to be preoccupied and not live in the moment. Time seems to slow down when we live in the moment, though. We notice more when mind and body are in synch and better appreciate our surroundings including those people around us.

One of my former colleagues used to keep two big clear glass bowls on his office credenza that contained marbles and each week he moved one marble from one bowl to the other. What he did was this. He determined his life expectancy and subtracted his then current age from his life expectancy and that came to 40 years. He then multiplied 40 years by 52 weeks in year and bought 2,080 marbles (representing 2,080 weekends left in his life) and two bowls big enough to hold that many marbles.

He put all the marbles in one bowl and after each weekend he moved one marble from one bowl to the other bowl indicating he had one less weekend to enjoy. It was like watching sand fall though an hour glass. It motivated him to not squander any weekends. It motivated him to make each week count – because the count gets smaller each passing week.

Reflect on Each Day

One exercise I did for three years in the late ’90s was to keep a journal and right down just one thing I learned each day. It may have been something I read, or something I heard,  or something I observed, or something I experienced. It helped me to get at least one thing from each day that I could use in the future. It also got me to reflect on each day.

Today I do it more or less mentally, but there is something to be said about writing things down …. and in your own handwriting …. and not typing them. In fact, studies shows that students who handwrite their notes do better on tests than those who type their notes on the computer.

That little exercise made me more aware of trying to get at least one useful thing from each day. It kept me more attuned to my surroundings – making living in the moment easier. It made me more observant and more appreciative of the day – better prepared to make each day better.

With each passing day you gain another day of experience – but you have to look at it that way to use that gained knowledge for future use. No experience or knowledge gained is wasted, unless you choose to waste it.

I believe it is wise take 15 to 30 minutes to reflect on each day, an hour or two to reflect on each week, a half day to reflect on each month, and an entire weekend to reflect on each year – mini personal retreats – to make sure your life is shaping up the way you want. Learn, adjust, and grow. There is no growth without learning and time spent in reflection leads to learning.

Make Your Day

At some level you have to make each day count. Some people simply try to get through the day. Others try to get from the day. And, a relative few try to make or shape the day. If you really want to enjoy life – if you really want to reach your full potential – you must shape each day. Make each day the day you want. John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach,  was encouraged by his dad with these words, “Make each day your masterpiece.” What a wonderful piece of advice.

Imagine how different your childhood might have been, and your life today, if you heard those words repeatedly as a child. You probably would have taken more risk and have less fear of failure as you attempted to paint a masterpiece each day. You probably would have been more willing to go outside your comfort zone. Nearly all wonderful things happen when you go outside your comfort zone. Have you noticed that? No risk – no reward.

Painting a masterpiece requires going outside your comfort zone.

Make Today Your Finest Masterpiece

Today is the only day you can live – and you may not get all of it. Make it special. Make each day your masterpiece.

Today is the only day you can make a difference. Today is the only day you can help someone. Today is the only day you can encourage someone. Today is the only day you can comfort someone with your words. Today is the only day you can love others. Today is the only day you can be kind, generous, and thoughtful. Today is the only day you can laugh and smile. Today is the only day you can cry tears of joy. Today is the only day you can celebrate.

Today is the only day you can plan for tomorrow. And, it’s the only day you have left with certainty to think about the past and treasure those memories from previous days – days you hopefully lived to the fullest. Memories – that’s all you are taking with you when you die. Make each day memorable.

So don’t let today slip away from you. Today belongs to you. It is your day. Use it to reach your full potential. Make it most memorable. Make today your finest masterpiece!

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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