We live in extraordinary times. Thanks to science and technology, as applied to diagnosis of diseases and their treatment, someone born today has a projected life span of at least 20 years longer than those born a century ago. But the hard rule of nature that all lives must end at some point of time cannot be changed. And it is only if we reject the nonsense of the mind-body divide and understand the potential of ‘the mind can heal the body’ that we can slow down the ageing odometer, which, unfortunately, never runs backward.
Our moods, feelings, thoughts and attitudes, all these influence our physiology. Also, it is well known that the way we think and feel can help us preserve the neurons or the brain cells that decay due to ageing. Now, if the mind can heal the body, can it also slow down the ageing process?
There are certain things in life that are non-negotiable; health challenges, which depend upon a large number of factors beyond our control, certain setbacks (may be in a job), and unforeseen tragedies (in family etc). But what is negotiable is how we face them. And that is what matters the most. Is it not a wonderful bounty of nature that our physical and mental well-being is within our own control? At my office, I would regularly visit the lady doctor to get a routine check-up, and each time I returned happily.
The doctor always told me that I was in perfect shape until one day. That day, the doctor was alarmed to record my blood pressure, which was much higher than the perfect score she had always announced. We soon discovered the problem; I was to take part in my first-ever debate on any TV channel. The next day, my BP was perfect again. This simply illustrates that when we are stressed, the BP goes up, and when we relax, it comes down, helping us stay fit and healthy.
In the ultimate analysis, diet, exercise, sleep and positive attitude, which are largely within our control, can help us live healthier and longer. While general optimism and meditation, routine day- to-day behaviour, the choices we make, and exercising the mind in a constructive manner can arrest or, at the least, slow the pace of ageing process, cynicism or pessimism can speed it up. In fact, how you feel about others affects you more than it affects them.
Also, long–time married couples tend to age in a better way than singles, widows and widowers, because having a partner in old age is a great support. The two can better manage the overall nastiness that comes with ageing and, by providing emotional support, special situations such as the loss of a loved one. Longevity is certainly tied to quality of married life, which ensures a healthy mind.
As we are living in an increasingly older society, the challenge for the governments is to build an India, where people grow old while being physically fit, mentally sharp and financially secure.
The real challenge is to live a better life, rather than a longer life. After all, the best place to be old is the friendliest.