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Naomi Judd: Don't dread growing older

In her new book for fellow baby boomers, the country singer debunks some common myths about aging. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

Singer and author Naomi Judd says that she is sick of society treating aging like an illness, something to be dreaded and avoided. In her new book, "Naomi's Guide to Aging Gratefully: Facts, Myths and Good News for Boomers," Judd argues that getting older isn't a curse but a rich opportunity for new experiences and greater contententment.

Here is an excerpt:

"If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old. You will just keep growing." -- Gail Sheehy, author of Passages

Chapter 1 All About Eve: The Birth of a Notion I got the determination to write Aging Gratefully after Grand magazine named me one of the top ten sexiest grandparents in the world. The list included Mick Jagger, Pierce Brosnan, Goldie Hawn, and Harrison Ford. I was proud to be included in what was a celebration of aging, and proof positive that Baby Boomers can be vital, exciting, healthy, productive, and yes, even sexy in their later years 'cause that's how I feel.

But the notion had already been brewing from my disquiet at society's growing prejudice against aging. Every time we see someone over fifty (if we see them at all) on television or in magazines, they're typically marginalized, or somehow portrayed as feeble or useless. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The first time Wy and I went to the fun house at the state fair while performing as the Judds, we were bemused at our grotesque images in the fun-house mirrors. But now this is how society's distorted reflection of aging feels today. Wy and I kept bumping into mirrors trying to navigate the maze. Suddenly we almost collided and Wy raised her hand to my face. Wondering aloud, she asked, "Are you real?"

Being Real
The number one cause of mental illness and unhappiness is not knowing who you are. This book is about looking in the mirror of truth and realizing and embracing who you are in mind and body and spirit. So instead of the most expensive over-the-counter cream or a visit to a plastic surgeon, think of these choices as your most effective weapon against fear of aging. Grab your bifocals or magnifying glasses and let's learn our options. I'm going to show you Grandma ain't what she used to be.

My friend Lily Tomlin says, "Anyone who writes a self-help book should first be able to prove they've helped themselves." So to begin every chapter, I'll reveal the personal story of my own experiences through the years. First I want to introduce you to a girl from my past named Naomi (name not a coincidence, as you will soon discover). She was a fellow student at Crabbe Grade School in Ashland, Kentucky. She was slow and unlovely. Every day I watched as Naomi walked by herself to our old stone schoolhouse. By contrast, as long as I can remember, people have told me how pretty I am. Seems it's only served to make me even more aware of how little external appearances mean. I didn't do anything to earn the looks or IQ with which I was born. Neither did Naomi. Neither did you.

We didn't get to choose the body or face with which we are born. Nor can we stop time from moving on. Somehow, even when I was in my early twenties, I intuited that basic reality. Maybe it was because I was in Hollywood, where I was becoming more and more upset about seeing people, especially women, allow themselves to be defined by our ever-changing, superficial culture. Thank goodness I began looking inward for my identity. I immediately felt less desperate. I realized that whenever I look at the fun-house mirror of society, I can remember it's only a distortion.

As I searched to figure out my values, I realized I value helping others. I left Hollywood to move us to Kentucky. My inner knowing steered me toward choosing to go to college and get a nursing degree. I valued a career in which character and caring matter more than the gift of genes. My patients didn't care what my face looked like, how old I was, or how much I weighed.

Shift happens. With this shift in my awareness, I felt more confident and more and more in control of my true self-image. I felt so much better about my future! I even went so far as to change my name from Diana Ellen Judd to Naomi Ellen Judd. Looking back, this early decision to change my first name, in recognition of that other Naomi (who still reminds me to be grateful) has helped preserve my sanity. I couldn't predict in the seventies that I would later be getting into the grandmother of all superficial and vain careers, showbiz. Somehow I have found my way in this most ageist of professions. I'm happier today at sixty-one than I've ever been. The critical steps I've learned along my journey are the ones I'm eager to share with you, dear reader.

It was a life-affirming breakthrough when I saw I could choose not to allow the culture, media, and some ad agency to impose harmful, unrealistic views and ideas about beauty, size, and age on me. Ever since then, I'm okay with growing older. I see it as something I'm going toward, rather than something to run away from. You can't stop the river, let's go with the flow. I've had a lot of ups and downs in my life -- married and with a child at eighteen, struggles with money and inappropriate men as a single mom, fame, fortune, and marriage to a wonderful man in my late thirties, forced retirement due to a supposed terminal illness in my late forties, and then the reinvention of myself as an author and a speaker, and with my own TV show in my fifties. I've survived so much stuff that my personal history (her story) is a testament to how not to sweat the stuff that's out of your control. When I can't control outer circumstances, I choose to change your reaction. That means you and I can change our reaction to aging too.

Aging is one of those things that you just can't control. As you and I grow older, changes in our physical appearance, as well as our mental capacity, are inevitable. Entropy isn't what it used to be (pun intended). We can't bargain with the clock, but we can react by making the best choices. One most important choice is to choose to be at peace with ourselves exactly as we are.

In this uncertain time of post 9/11, we certainly have enough to be insecure about. You and I don't need to be worrying about sagging bust lines and crow's-feet. I want to show you, whatever your age, that you can feel great, live fully, and be comfortable with and even embrace aging. So many of the answers to living well and longer lie within our minds. It's all about perspective and perception. This book is about all the ways you get to control your reaction.

I'm a straight shooter. If you really want to be the best you can be at whatever your age is right now, you must look in the mirror of truth about your own misconceptions. To get what you want, you need to identify what you don't want. When asked how he sculped the famous statue of David, Michelangelo replied, "I just got rid of everything that wasn't David."

Gerontologist Alex Comfort claimed that what we consider "aging" is only 25 percent the result of actual changes in body and mind; the rest is caused by the negative stereotypes placed on older folks. That's what my well-researched message is all about. First, how to recognize and say no to all the ridiculous stereotypes in the media about aging and figure out your own bias. Then to illuminate what your realistic choices are to have the best body, mind, and spirit you can, from now on. Through my personal stories of being in the media and a gathering of the best scientific data, you'll discover your own uniqueness to age gratefully and gracefully. Each chapter ends with Your Turn Now, for you to reflect on the new information and process it into an expanded way of thinking and behaving.

In these pages you will discover the role genetics and environment play in the aging process. Did you know that genetics are just 30 percent responsible in determining how long you live? Behavioral choices are the other 70 percent. (And by the time you hit fifty, lifestyle accounts for 80 percent of how you age!) As my friend Dr. Francis Collins said after his group decoded the human genome, "We're not marionettes being directed by our genes. We have free will to make daily choices."

What Dr. Collins's historic scientific discovery means is that the choices you and I make every day matter the most in how long and well we live. For example, heart disease is the number one cause of death, but 70 percent of arterial aging is preventable. Fifty percent of illnesses associated with aging (diabetes, broken bones, heart attack, and more) can be prevented. You'll learn about the differences between chronological and biological aging and what commonsense choices you can make to be healthier in body, mind, and spirit.

You'll find out the secrets of some of the healthiest old people on the planet -- the Okinawans, who are fit and functioning into their nineties and beyond. Doctors who've studied them claim that 80 percent of the nation's coronary units, one-third of the cancer wards, and a lot of the nursing homes would be shut down if Americans made choices more like these elders. And you'll meet several others groups of fabulously long-living folks -- a group of nuns, for instance, whose inner lives have been studied for decades, as well as folks who have been tracked by Harvard for over fifty years. They'll point us in the direction of what emotional and spiritual qualities we can begin cultivating and specific behaviors to stay vigorous and become happier throughout our entire existence.

You'll even see why practicing gratitude is so important and how an everyday simple act of being generous can add years to your life.

We'll also address the challenges of caring for parents while we're aging. I'll offer steps to deal with the grief that comes with loss, and explain how to nurture friendships and romantic love through the life span. And of course you'll be hearing from me about what I am learn-

ing from my own personal adventure of aging and inside stories of celebrity friends. Since laughter is such a life enhancer, I intend that we have a rollicking good time along the way. (A few birthday party games for when we're older: (1) Sag, You're It; (2) Pin the Toupee on the Bald Guy; (3) Twenty Questions Shouted into Your Good Ear; (4) Hide and Go Pee.)

Ultimately, my fondest hope is that you become inspired to CHANGE: Choose Having A New Growth Experience. This is the only life we get, don't waste another drop. Really, that's the whole point of living, whatever the decade you find yourself in. Grief expert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross put it this way: "It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we're alive -- to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are."

In order for us to be fulfilled, you and I should begin challenging negative media images that contribute to depression around aging. In many ways, we seventy-eight million baby boomers are already doing that.

Reprinted from “” by Naomi Judd, MD. Copyright 2007 by Naomi Judd. Permission granted by .