Four years ago, when I entered my fifties, I remember feeling appalled by the idea that I was growing old. Me 50? How come? I still feel young. The child in me is still alive and well.
I started to question my feelings about getting old. Our conservative society can be harsh to people in their fifties. A 50-year-old woman shouldn’t learn to dance, swim, or wear tight jeans, it says … a hell of a lot of stereotypical standards.
A few months later, I decided to forget all about my age. I indulged myself in various activities including contemporary dance courses, short trips, and painting courses. Although the fact that my job responsibilities were the same, I was thrilled to rediscover myself and to do what had been missing throughout my long and hectic career as a journalist.
This very article is inspired by a watercolour and ink painting, a technique I learned recently. When I finished painting, I felt that oh, it seems that I am getting younger. But, is this possible? Why not, I asked myself. If birds never look old, humans can do the same.
Well, I have been thinking of how I rarely felt old, and here are some personal tips that I have learned along the way.
In my late thirties and early forties, I never changed my style of dress just because I was now 40. I have always felt the urge to keep my style and to purchase clothes that make me feel and look good. As I browsed Facebook one day, I came across a page entitled “50 is not old” by a stylish woman whose aim is to discuss new fashion styles that help women look polished and put-together. It is a very unique page to follow.
Losing weight might be the first thing that jumps to your mind. Well, I also followed the advice and diet programmes of many dieticians and managed to lose some weight, but it was only in my early fifties when I realised that following a healthy dietary programme should be a lifestyle and not for a certain period or to reach a definite target. This moment of reason only came after a sudden stomach sickness that obliged me to follow a healthy diet.
“The first form of wealth is health in your fifties. Your body changes as your age, so your diet needs to change too. We need to establish a good relationship with food,” comments Bassent Ahmed, a therapeutic nutritionist. “Calcium is the most important element, as dairy osteoporosis is a common problem after 50. Women need 1,200 mg of calcium daily, and the best sources are dark green leaves, broccoli, almonds, nuts, salmon, figs, and sesame seeds.”
Ahmed also mentioned Vitamin B12 for sustaining mental health, which is largely found in eggs, fish, and fortified food like cereals and grains. Protein is essential for muscles, which need an extra boost for strength and repair after activity when you reach your fifties. She suggests steak, fish, chicken breast, turkey, lentils and quinoa.
Getting younger with age
illustration: Rania Khallaf
A smart strategy in your fifties is traveling to unusual places rather than beaches and traditional touristic sites. I remember that my three-day trip to Al-Qoseir, a historic city in Eastern Egypt located on the Red Sea and populated for nearly 5,000 years, was like a discovery mission for me. There is an open ancient area with houses and a marine area that dates back to the 18th century, and these things made me feel like an explorer. Another star-gazing trip to the Whale Valley in Fayoum with Astro Trips, a company which arranges astronomy trips, also made me feel light and young again.
I asked my friend ornithologist Sherif Baha El-Din, president of Nature Conversation Egypt, if frequent exposure to nature could help us feel younger.
“The sound of rustling leaves and chirping birds, the sensation of the wind blowing, the bright colours of butterflies, the sting of the sun’s rays, the motion of waves arriving at the beach, the scent of jasmine in the night — all such sensations from nature confirm that we are alive. We encounter them frequently, but often don’t notice them. Regardless of our own awareness, these sensations make us happier and younger,” Baha El-Din said.
“In our modern lives, we have increasingly distanced ourselves from the natural environment, living in huge concrete jungles manufactured by man. Today, most of humanity lives in urban settings. But man is part of nature, despite his unwise ability to disrupt natural systems.”
Today, he added, the links between man and nature might seem tenuous or even non-existent, but in fact we need to reconnect with nature today more than ever and appreciate its richness, complexity, and our position within it.
“As we mature and get wiser, we seek to place our lives in context. At a very basic level, we are part of nature, being composed of cells and sharing our DNA with most creatures on the globe. On a non-physical level we are also emotionally and spiritually connected with nature in ways we do not comprehend,” he said.
“To rejuvenate, the life within us needs to connect with its surroundings and with nature. However, connecting with nature is not necessarily done in a garden or by the Nile, but more importantly by opening pathways of thoughtfulness, of appreciation, and of careful observation of the beauty and enormous bounty of nature,” he suggested.
“In any place and any situation the evidence of nature is everywhere... this is especially true in Egypt — lying in bed while you listen to the karwan [curlew] call at night, for example, or noting a little gecko secreting itself behind your father’s picture on the wall. In a busy bus, a black kite in the sky extends a hand, a hint of freedom, and down a busy road the swallows swoop down on flies swarming above the sweat-drenched bodies of the crowds below,” he noted.
Celebration another key factor that has sustained my positive feelings about age is dancing. At times of depression, I surprise myself with a sudden dance, and at times of victory, I dance to celebrate.
It usually comes on suddenly, naively with no prior intention. I just play my favourite music and let my body talk. Luckily, dance courses are everywhere. Two years ago, I joined two courses in contemporary dance and Sufi dance with professional contemporary dancer Ahmed Boraie, which positively urged me to rethink my own relationship with my body and the notion of age.
“Our modern lives impose certain stereotypical roles, and many of us focus on the obligations of home and family. Time allocated for ourselves to rejuvenate and enjoy life has diminished,” he said. “And here comes the role of dancing as an excellent way to recharge the body’s energy, to have fun, to stimulate the imagination, and to help adapt and solve problems.”
Boraie explained that dance releases endorphins, natural chemicals that give the body a feeling of happiness, promote an overall feeling of well-being, and can even relieve pain. “It increases the vitality of the blood circulation because it expands the blood vessels and increases blood flow to the brain, which increases a person’s ability to control their nerves. It can also help sustain social interaction through dancing within a group,” he added.
“One day, Ghada, a trainee who was over 50, told me after a dance class that she felt 20 years younger or more and that she felt happier and more interested in life. This is very true. The movement of the body in harmony with the rhythm and expressing momentary feelings is definitely a magic solution to aging,” Boraie concluded.
If you still feeling old, here are a few more tips to try.
Try to be more tolerant and calmer, for example. I know it is hard in such a challenging, burdensome life, but you will instantly notice your shining face when you forgive, tolerate, and understand other people’s views. Donations are super important too. Being a member of a Facebook group of people I did not know before just to donate money to help cure children of spinal muscular atrophy made me feel younger and happier.
Go for a walk or visit a new place with no prior planning; just follow your guts. Learning new stuff, a language or a skill, is a good way to feel younger; it brings back good memories and funny stories about schoolmates. Learn to defy stereotypes about getting older.
Always remember that age is just a number, and that the child in you is still alive and needs your attention. 50 is not old. What about the sixties and seventies? I believe we need to change our mindset. We are not getting old; we are changing. As time passes, we change; our emotions and thoughts change, and simultaneously the shape of our body changes. The trick is to realise that you are big enough to contain all ages, experiences, and moods and emotions that you created as time elapses.
Rethinking the issue, I believe we need to rephrase the traditional question of “how old are you” to a more positive “how young are you?” Or “how beautiful are you?” Because “old” should be used to describe mute stuff, not human beings or any other living species.
So, from now on, ask yourself how young you are today. And how beautiful you have become.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly