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We’re overdue to talk about something that my friends and I talk about maybe a little too often: how to age well.

Or its inverse, youthfulness and how they’re connected to beauty and how we feel as women. I turn 37 later this month, and it’s funny how suddenly, talk of “anti-aging” is everywhere. It’s the fine lines under my eyes when I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror at a stoplight (okay let’s be honest, when I study it microscopically in the most unforgiving light possible.) It’s trying on a pair of shorts the other day that I’ve owned for ages—sure they still fit, but… am I too old for shorts that have a rip on the lower butt cheek? It’s the boxes I check on my dermatologist intake form that list “my concerns.”

My husband, who’s a decade older than me (I know, I know, scandalous) names the most annoying things that have happened in his forties: “My shoulder hurts and my vision sucks.” Notice there’s nothing in there that has to do with his looks. Of course, he has the unfair advantage of people telling him he’s even hotter as he gets older: his thick hair looks cooler than ever with its flecks of grey; he doesn’t have “sun spots,” only more freckles that make him look even more boyish. (#[email protected]*&%)

(pictured above: adam, aging in reverse)

Just as I’m about to buy into the cliché that men age better than women, I think about my mother. She’s in her mid-60s and projects such a spirit of youthfulness, despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that she’s never botox’d, injected, rubbed caviar on her face, done extreme forms of exercise, intermittent fasted, or strived in any way to be younger than she actually is.

Let’s hit pause for a sec, and clarify that there’s no shame in doing any of these things—I’m literally the last person who could frown upon extreme beauty and wellness practices. I have done and loved almost all of them. That said, there’s a big difference between, say, fasting because it makes you feel energized versus white-knuckling through a morning of starvation some health guru told you to. There’s also a major difference between botox that “freshens” a face and botox that freezes it in place. It’s about listening to your inner wisdom and doing what makes you feel like your best, most authentic self but also giving up the quest for constant perfection—note to self!

(pictured above: my mom, then and now)

What’s interesting is that, when I think about my mom, she regularly does things that fly in the face of conventional wellness advice on how to age well. For example:

  • Never forgets to drink coffee, but frequently forgets to drink water throughout the day.
  • Stays up way too late at night reading a book.
  • Eats cake for dinner (she’s about to text me, “I do NOT do that “regularly,” only every once in a while!)

So, what are the secrets of women who look way younger than they actually are?

When I googled “how to age well,” there were several things that showed up on almost all the lists, and though they sound like common sense, I’m betting a lot of us still don’t actually do them. I was curious to see if my mom practices most of these things, since let’s be honest, half of aging is genetic, so I have a vested interest. If I’ve inherited my mom’s passion for a great almond croissant (?), I sure as hell hope that I also inherited her good metabolism. Let’s get to the recommendations:

1. Exercise. While Mom has never been obsessive about working out, she’s always been a walker. Kinda fast, most days. I used to wonder if she was getting enough cardio in, but almost every recent study shows the benefits of even moderate exercise when you do it consistently over the long term. This study found that regular exercise through adulthood caused older men’s muscles to more closely resemble those of 25-year-olds than those of sedentary people their age.

2. Use your brain. Oooh yeah. I’d definitely consider Mom a news junkie, and (just as important) she stays well-versed in style, culture, art, and music. Where do you think I get all the good articles to share with you guys?

3. Have close relationships. I know my little sister thinks she’s my mom’s best friend, but I’m sorry to break the news here that it’s actually me. Regardless, the result of hanging out with people decades younger than herself is that she stays really hip. You know, like me? I also think of the dogs she’s owned and loved through the years. Every day, she’s outside throwing a ball with them, or curled up petting and cuddling them. Major feel-good-stay-young hormones.

4. Protect your skin. Uggggh, why did I not follow her advice to wear sunscreen when I was a teenager instead of hanging out with my friend who worked at a tanning salon? Better late than never, but she’s always practiced what she preaches on this one.

5. Eat less. I know, BUMMER!! But several studies have shown that eating less as we get older reduces certain markers of aging and disease. My mom shares my passion for good food, but I’ve rarely seen her eat past the point of fullness. She eats what she wants, but knows when to stop—in other words, she’s been on the intuitive eating train since long before it had a name.

6. Stay interested. Okay, I made this one up, but isn’t it obvious that this keeps people young? Mom gardens, goes to museums, weaves, bakes croissants, reads novels, sees live music, and definitely tries more new restaurants than I do.

7. Have more sex. Okay, STOP THERE. But seriously, according to a study published in Psychology Today, athletes who were still competing in sport in their sixties had sex lives comparable to those 20 years younger. And the researchers interviewed their spouses for verification.

More than anything, it’s this zest for life and endless curiosity about the world that gives my mother her vitality. When I asked her if she had any other secrets, she added, “I eat berries every day, and religiously use retinol twice a week. I also look more forward than behind me these days.”

Maybe we should all just ditch the term “anti-aging,” since the feeling I’m pursuing has nothing to do with age. It’s a presence and sensuality that sees and relishes the world around me.

It’s not the sterile beauty that comes from the absence of laugh lines in a face; it’s the woman who’s fully engaged with life, and you can hear it in the emotion of her voice, see it in how she carries herself (confident and relaxed), and feel it in how easily she laughs, not taking life too seriously.

Mom, thanks for showing me how good getting older can be and helping me embrace every single one of those candles on my cake tonight.

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