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Looking and feeling graceful, at any age

Chapter 1: Fit, Young, and Vital
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” —Sophia Loren

From the moment we are born, we begin growing in all aspects of life — mental, physical, and spiritual. As children, we are barely aware that this is taking place. By the time we reach our teens, we think we know all there is to know about life — or at least all we want to know. We quickly realize the folly of this attitude as we enter adulthood and life continues to challenge and cajole us into more growth.

Our twenties are spent exploring life with a youthful, free spirit attitude filled with wide-eyed, sometimes naive dreams of the future. Some of us delve into careers, others travel, and still others marry and start families.

By the time we reach our thirties, we’ve usually learned — sometimes the hard way — that we will always continue to grow. We’ve experienced enough love and loss by then to acknowledge, and even start to respect, that there is such a thing as wisdom that comes with age.

Our forties give us the chance to start looking back on our lives while still striding confidently into the future. We consider the choices we have made and, if given the opportunity, whether we would make them again. For those we wouldn’t change, we are eternally grateful. For those we would like to do something about, we still have the strength and vision to plan a new course.

This trend continues into our fifties and beyond. By our “golden years” we may have moved to a new town, our kids may have moved out and established busy careers and lives of their own, and we might be grandparents. Retirement nudges the back of our minds, and we wonder if we’ve planned well enough. We look forward to easing into a long and relaxing retirement, surrounded by family and friends. Sound familiar?

Most of what I’ve described is what some might consider the “typical” ebb and flow of life. Then there are people who live life according to another plan, as I have. Either by choice, circumstance or both, we veer onto a less traditional course at some point in our lives. After spending most of my youth at boarding school, I followed the conventions of society by marrying in my early twenties, as most people did in the 1950s and 1960s, and starting a family. I mistakenly thought I was at the peak of my fitness, youth, and vitality back then. After dedicating three decades to raising a large family — something I enjoyed very much — I made a drastic turn off the traditional path. It’s not that I was rebelling — quite the opposite, in fact. I chose to embrace a different kind of life than the one I had been living.

I did things out of sequence compared to most, in reverse order. I entered the corporate world at age fifty-three, when many women are planning when and how to get out, and I began a modeling career at sixty-three, when most are planning what to wear to their retirement dinners. Prior to that, I had been a stay-at-home mom with six bright and energetic children. Typically, models (and pro athletes) start their careers early in life and then build a second career that is more socially acceptable once they are past their “prime,” at which time they may settle down and start a family.

There aren’t many who raise children first, climb the corporate ladder at midlife, and then turn to modeling as senior citizens.

As you’ll read in these pages, my choices and some unexpected acts of grace have made me rethink what the “prime” years of my life really are — perhaps it’s not all downhill after twenty-five — and what it truly means to age gracefully. My goal is to inspire a younger generation to look forward to all of the years that lie ahead because we never know what life is going to bring—the best years of life may very well be to come. It’s simply not true that we have to look at retirement as the end — we should continue to explore life, challenge ourselves, and look around the corner to see what’s next. Some of us are climbing mountains, some are starting new businesses, and some are raising grandchildren or even starting a second family.

To age gracefully has everything to do with our inner attitude and gratitude toward life. It means having curiosity and an inquisitive mind, seeking ways to bring joy and abundance into our own lives and those of others, and being more interested in others than we are in ourselves. Living a fit and vital life is about many things. It has as much to do with our spiritual and intellectual beings as it does our physical bodies. Living an enriched life is the essence of living life to the fullest, and if you can do so with grace, all the better.

The chapters in this book address the fundamentals of feeling fit, young, and vital at every age. They present the most complete and inspiring ways I could find to enhance your outlook on life by enhancing your own body, mind, and soul. You’ll find valuable advice on exercise, nutrition, building self-confidence, relationships, spirituality, and self-love — all of which are essential to aging gracefully. I’ll encourage you to start a journal if you don’t already keep one, and we’ll look at different ways to use visualization to manifest wonderful experiences.

Every word is meant to encourage you to take delight tin the life you’re experiencing. You can accomplish more in life than you ever imagined if you use your body, mind, and soul in the positive way in which they are meant to be aligned.

Fit After FiftyHave you ever noticed that someone who’s fit, strong, and healthy has a glow and a confidence that is unmistakable? Let’s face it — it’s sexy! That kind of glow draws others to you in a stronger, more positive way than a pretty face and good hair ever could.

It’s clearly important to remain fit and trim for as many years as possible. Being fit gives you the energy and strength to accomplish not only day-to-day tasks, like schlepping grocery bags or carrying a laundry basket up a flight of stairs, but also to enjoy playing games with your grandchildren or hiking up a mountain. We hear and read about fit people having an easier time fending off disease, depression, and illnesses. Additionally, there are lots of social benefits to a healthy lifestyle, such as being able to on a beach with your spouse or your dog. Most people who are in good shape tend to stick to a workout routine, which gives them a goal and a purpose when they start their day. Working out increases your heart rate, gets your blood fl owing, and revitalizes you. Staying fit throughout your life is one of several ways to enhance your vitality and age gracefully. In fact, the best sweat is due to exercise, not to stress.

A Spell of Youth
From the moment we start to feel or think we look old, we begin chasing Ponce de León’s fountain of youth. Before you book a trip to St. Augustine, Florida, consider that you have tools of your own that you can use. Youth comes in all forms and attitudes. A few adjustments can make a world of difference.

It happens to everyone one day — that moment when you look in the mirror and admit that you now have a reason to consider night cream. You notice new aches and pains, and while you may have been using preventive anti-aging potions and lotions for some time, it’s inevitable that a wrinkle or a gray hair will break through your defenses. What I’ve learned is that accepting and working with these changes in yourself, while also making the most of what you still have going for you, is what keeps you young. Accept aging — because we all age — but continue to be thankful for and work with the youthful aspects you’ve maintained. Your attitude, words, and approach to life can reflect much more youth than smooth skin, no matter what your driver’s license says.

Youth really does come in all ages. I know eighty-year-olds whose eyes and smiles sparkle like they just came home from their first date. Their laugh lines are dimmed by the smiles on their faces. On the flip side, I’ve met twenty-year-olds who look like they’ve already lived eighty years. For one reason or another, their outlook is dark and dreary even though they still have so much ahead of them.

The evidence that youth is a state of mind is reinforced from person to person and generation to generation. Which side of the coin do you choose to be? A good place to start is to consider how fit, young, and vital you are now.

Vitality and Living WellIf youth is a state of body and mind, vitality is a state of being — of soul. If you wrap yourself in the essence of vitality, youth will follow. Vitality reflects your higher self, and if it runs high within you, you are likely leading a happy, healthy life filled with fun friends of all ages, a healthy relationship, and a career or other mind stimulus that keeps you waking up before the alarm goes off every morning.

Vitality is the essence of your soul; it helps drive who you are and where you’re going. When your vitality level runs high, you’re able to make friends in a room full of strangers; you can face life’s challenges with the inner knowledge that you’re always being tested, and when you face and rise above these tests, you grow and move on.

Vitality brings vigor and passion to what and how you do things in life. It may have been what propelled you through college, or it may have been the driving force behind your decision to start your own business. It’s likely that vitality has played a role in your accomplishments, because without it, success is almost impossible. A vital woman exudes confidence and inner beauty. She is strong in mind and purpose. She leads a rich and fulfilling life balanced with loving friends and family, activities and interests, and a career (if that’s one of her choices).

Wisdom, grace, and self-confidence are some of the characteristics of people we respect and aspire to emulate. I have lived my life inspired by others with these traits. My mother was my main inspiration — beautiful, graceful, smart, and cosmopolitan in her own right. Having healthy role models in all areas of your life allows you to discover through others the qualities that you want to have, while also allowing you to define what these qualities mean to you personally. Role models are guides for you to observe and learn from; however, they do not set rules. The mentors you meet and work with along the way assist in shaping your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. They are there when you have questions, when you falter, and mostly when you succeed. You can apply what you learn from your mentors and then develop your own way of thinking, which is what identifies you as an individual.

I have tried to set my own standards for what leads to a fit, young, and vital life. In this book, I’ll guide you through my approach to life, and I hope that you’ll be inspired to take action in your own way. You, too, can be fit, young, and vital.

Excerpted from "Gracefully" by Valerie Ramsey. Copyright 2008 Valerie Ramsey. Reprinted with permission from McGraw Hill. All rights reserved.

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