I made a recent comment in an ROK article that I thought could be more fully fleshed out in a separate post. The subject is one that concerns all of us: how to continue to look your best as you get older. The following points are my own opinions and observations about what things have helped me look and feel younger than my years. As I see it, “looking your best” has three general categories: physical best, mental best, and emotional best. I will examine each of these categories in some detail.
Your “physical best” is protecting and preserving your body so that you can be viewed as looking (by general consent) younger than your age. In short, you’ve got to take care of yourself. Some things that I’ve found to be important in this vein are:
You need to focus particular attention on your skin. Sun can age your skin remarkably quickly. Even if you have never had problems with your skin in the past, bad things can just erupt out of nowhere. The most important skin care tip I can pass on is to wear sunscreen or sunblock of some sort. There are two general categories of sunscreens or sunblocks: chemical and mineral. The mineral sunscreens have zinc or titanium oxides in them, and work by reflecting the sun’s rays from you. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and dissipating them as heat.
I never paid any of this much mind until after my last trip to Brazil a couple months ago, when I noticed I was developing pigmentation discoloration on my forehead. I never wore sunscreen diligently there in all my years of traveling. A trip to the dermatologist followed, and I learned many things I didn’t know. So, profit from my mistakes. Use sunscreen. I’m told that the protection level should be at least 50 in the summer, and 35 in winter.
Schedule a comprehensive physical examination once per year to give yourself a thorough “review”. This is a pain in the ass, but it really is necessary. A decent doctor can catch things that can be solved in the early stages, and this can save you tons of money and stress in the long run.
You need to eat right and avoid garbage. It is very easy to slide in bad food habits, especially when you are single. But you need to be disciplined. There are tons of books and other materials out there about nutrition, and I have nothing new to offer in terms of any diet recommendations, except that you should eat a wide variety of foods. I don’t think any other advice makes as much sense. Make a special emphasis on variety: fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, grains, nuts, dairy products, etc. You just can’t go wrong with variety. I don’t believe in food fads. You should avoid processed foods and junk foods whenever possible. Don’t eat out often, and learn to cook well for yourself. It’s an essential skill.
Some guys swear by supplements. I don’t. The only supplements I take are a mens’ multivitamin, and fish oil capsules. Does the fish oil do any good? I have no idea. But I think so. I don’t mess with any other supplements. I suspect most of them are a waste of money and put undue stresses on the internal organs. And if you’re eating a truly balanced diet, you’ll get all of what you need from that.
You need to exercise. And I mean vigorously and regularly, as if it really is part of your life. When you pass 40, the focus should be on gaining and preserving muscle, since it will keep you looking good, protect you from injury, and keep your testosterone levels up. So, weightlifting should be a main focus. But don’t ignore other elements of fitness. You should also incorporate some vigorous swimming, running, or other endurance-related training into your regimen. And don’t forget flexibility. You would be surprised how freak accidents can happen by just walking around. The worse hamstring injury I got was just from walking around Tokyo about a year and a half ago. All I was doing was walking. Yoga is also great for flexibility. The problem is that it is also boring as hell. I don’t do it, but would suggest it if you want to mix things up a bit.
Do not go without sex for long periods of time. The male animal needs intimacy, and lack of such intimacy with females can produce neuroses, anxieties, complexes, and all sorts of depression problems. So, get out there and make it happen one way or another. The chase will do wonders for your morale, too.
Regarding you mental best, the key thing here is keeping your mind active and intensely focused. Don’t believe all that bullshit about it being “harder to learn as you get older.” It’s actually easier in many ways, because you know how to learn more efficiently than you used to. Take up hobbies or activities that exercise other parts of your brain: learn a new musical instrument, learn to paint, learn to sculpt clay, stone, or wood, learn a new language. Anything. The idea is that you need to keep yourself intense and focused. I am a very intense and driven person, so this type of thing is necessary for me as a way of channeling off surplus energy.
Another way to keep yourself sharp is by being around and interacting with stimulating, interesting, or intelligent people. Avoid deadbeats, flat-liners, dunces, and sluggards. They will only bring you down. This applies equally to men and women. Hanging around the wrong sort of people can really drag a man down. So, pick carefully the people you spend your time with. Time is precious.
You’ve just got to nurture your spirit and morale as you get older. Once you’ve seen the same old story play out over and over again like you’ve seen it in your 20s and 30s, it is very easy to get cynical and jaded about everything. Sometimes I get that line from an old Digital Underground song repeating in my head as I walk around a new foreign city: “all around the world, the same song”. It really feels like that, all too often. I suppose some of this is natural.
When you’re a single man and living in the West, you are going to be subjected to severe stresses from society and the media. You need to be aware of this. There is such a volume of stupefying trash out there in the media and on people’s lips that it becomes difficult to escape the steady drum-beat of conformist brainwashing. If Goebbels himself could come back today to modern America, he would be truly impressed at the advanced state of propaganda, groupthink, and mind control that has successfully been able to distract people from what really matters.
Travel frequently. You can all-too-easily become trapped in a rut. Nothing shatters the illusions like travel. I can’t stress this enough. My friend Maverick Traveler (who is extremely well-traveled) has structured his life around travel, and to a more modest extent so have I. To me, it is a critical part of my sanity (or insanity). To range across space and time, make languages your passports and companions.
Shut off or disconnect the television. Basic cable is fine, but anything more than that is a waste of money and a real downer. Listen to foreign newscasts on the internet, in the target language(s) you’re studying.
Avoid overly negative people. You know who these people are in your life. You have the “sad sack” types, the people who hobble around looking pathetic and looking like life has crushed them. They’re the ones at the gym, in the locker room, with a distended belly, whining about their gall bladder operation or how their aunt is dying of lymphoma. Bottom line: nobody cares, and flatliner negativism has a way of becoming a substitute for action. Then you have the “I’m gonna” types. These are the guys who are always just about to do something great, but never do for one reason or another. They resent anyone better or happier than they are. Say hello, and keep moving. I love to bitch about bullshit as much as anyone, but at the end of the day I know how to roll up my sleeves and keep going. Venting is fine, and performs a necessary function of releasing stress. But just don’t let it slide into bottomless darkness.
Then you have the “angry” types, who are convinced that the entire world is conspiring against them, whether it’s the UN, the “Illuminati”, Gozer The Destroyer, or whatever. They use whatever fixation they have as an excuse not to try to improve themselves. Then there are the “vampire” types, those men and women who just drain you emotionally for one reason or another. They might be old friends from school whom you no longer have anything in common with. Or they might be that wife, girlfriend, or fuck buddy you just can’t get rid of. Or they may be one of those 100 useless “friends” on Facebook. Fire their asses. Or powercheck their asses into the proverbial boards of the hockey rink. You’ll feel better. Literally.
We all have a bit of these tendencies, but you need to keep this stuff under control or it will consume you.
You should embrace some sort of world-view that protects you from depression, negativism, and other bad thoughts. Everyone is different in this regard. I know people who have widely varied belief systems (e.g., mystical theurgy, religion, atheism, philosophy, etc), but who all share the commonality of sincerity. It doesn’t really matter what you believe in, as long as you sincerely believe it and it helps you deal with the stresses, agonies, and trials of life.
Because, believe me, bad things will happen to you. No one escapes this aspect of Fate. And if you don’t have the maturity or seasoning of a comprehensive belief system, you may find it difficult to cope. As Gavan Daws relates in his classic wartime study Prisoners of the Japanese, the inmates of Japanese POW camps in the Pacific who best survived were those who had a strong belief system.
Finally, be aware of your time. Every great man valued his time above all else. I recently read how Charlemagne, the greatest of medieval kings, would hear cases and diplomatic issues as he dressed in the morning. And beware of “non-game changers”: spinning your wheels on pointless nonsense for little real value gained. I saw a hilarious cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine a while ago about this. It was entitled (of course) Non Game Changers. You can find it easily on Google. It listed a series of activities that appear important, but are not (rearranging the living room, switching to organic milk, reading “Ulysses”, getting on Facebook, getting off Facebook).
To make real changes in your life, they have to be real game-changers. Don’t waste time on sideshows, distractions, or stupidities. Big, bold changes are often better than the incremental bullshit you’ve been doing up till now. Shock your system and shock your mind, and force yourself to adapt.
Don’t isolate yourself. People need interaction constantly. Many neuroses and complexes could be nipped in the bud if people had others to keep them in check. Everyone needs a smack upside the head every now and then to keep himself grounded. When you’re alone, you have only yourself to talk to, and after a while the walls start closing in on you. People with active, intense minds need to be aware of this more than others.
And finally, have a sense of humor. Keep laughing, no matter what. Because you’re on this roller-coaster ride whether you like it or not, and you might as well stick around to see what happens.