True beauty never fades. Our smile lines tell a happy story. The corners of our eyes crinkle from years of joyful expressions. And the soft marks on our foreheads show wisdom reaped. These gentle wrinkles reveal our life experiences cultivated over years.
And they are part of our natural aging process—which is utterly unavoidable, try as we may. Botox. Face lifts. Laser treatments. Collagen injections. These processes provide an immediate image of youth in a fleeting, self-effacing form. But lasting, timeless beauty comes from our inner selves. It begins with consciousness, self-awareness and a holistic approach to living—agelessly. The way in which we view our age and our beauty shifts when we take an active role in embracing what naturally, unavoidably (and beautifully) happens.
Through the ages
Throughout youth until our late 30s, our beauty is carefree. We have soft, resilient skin and a strengthening quality to our muscle tone. Occasional imbalances are simply accepted as part of a series of adjustments that will eventually correct themselves as we literally grow into our own skin.
This equation, however, changes over time, and our bodies’ systems begin to show signs of natural wear. After the age of 35 and throughout the aging process, our bones can become more brittle as they start to decrease in size and density. Muscle strength and flexibility change as well. Fatty deposits that can narrow our arteries alter the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, making us at risk for stroke. There is a steady decline in our cognitive functions, including our ability to think, learn and remember. The digestive system slows down in subtle ways as the secretions of the digestive organs decrease. Metabolism is further affected and slowed by the loss of muscle mass.
At 40, we come to a mid-point between youth and old age. At this time, our physical bodies may show changes brought on by experiences such as childbirth, the stresses of life and work, sun exposure, environmental influences and the effects of both healthy and unhealthy lifestyle practices. And yet while aging is a naturally universal process, research by the National Institute of Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (the medical research branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), has found there is no single, chronological timetable for human aging. We all age differently due in part to our genetics and lifestyle.
If it’s reassuring to know we age at our own individual rate, NIA research is also helping us understand other aspects of the effects of time on the body, such as the distinction between aging and disease. A study of patients over a 50-year period showed that even though our bodies over time become more delicate and can decline in certain ways, these changes are distinct from diseases. In other words, if we take care of ourselves, we can avoid maladies such as diabetes, hypertension or dementia and even minimize or overcome any genetic predispositions. Through a proactive approach, we can affect our aging processes for long-term health and vitality.
The skin we’re in
Our skin, a mirror of both our inner and outer worlds, is the first site of age-related changes. As the years pass the skin becomes thinner, and circulation and collagen production decrease. It looses elasticity and becomes drier, developing wrinkles and age spots. Our skin gradually begins to produce less oil and takes longer to regenerate cells. As a result, our skin’s barrier function decreases, making us more prone to skin infections, bruising and moisture loss, leading to dry and dehydrated skin.
Premature aging begins when free radicals, characterized as highly reactive atoms or molecules, overtake our healthy skin cells’ functions, including its natural antioxidant abilities and self-defense mechanisms. This process can even happen in younger skin as a result of regular and excess exposure to UV light, cigarette smoke, alcohol and medications. Areas that have been most often exposed to the light such as the face, hands and neck will be the first places to show signs of premature aging and thus must be specially cared for and protected. Holistic skin-care expert and Weleda esthetician Lilith Schwertle suggests, “Women should massage their neck, décolleté and breasts with a nourishing, antioxidant-rich oil like Weleda Pomegranate Regenerating Body Oil—particularly after the age of 40. It is in these areas where you can often see signs of aging.”
For many women, life after 40 is a time when they can focus on caring for themselves after years of caring for others. Just as we should be mindful of a healthy diet to maintain physical and mental health, our skin also needs and deserves special attention. Regular use of skin-care products made with ingredients high in essential fatty acids and antioxidants will preserve the elasticity and firmness of the skin while protecting from age-promoting environmental influences. Nutrient-rich seed and nut oils, such as those used in Weleda’s Pomegranate Regenerating Skin Care, feed the skin when it so urgently needs the highest-quality nutrition.
Superior sources of skin nutrition include oils from organic pomegranate, sesame, jojoba and macadamia seeds. Pomegranate contains a high percentage of punicic acid (see p24 for more information) as well as saturated fatty acids, vitamin E, flavonoids and phytohormones. These natural ingredients are scientifically shown to increase collagen and promote cell renewal. Nut and seed oils counteract dryness and restore the protective function of the skin. They are easily assimilated by the skin and support its healthy functions. “As we age our skin’s natural building-up functions slow,” explains Schwertle. “We want to continuously activate it so that it stays in healthy balance.” Our skin does not have to reveal our age as defined in years. Instead, it can radiate to the outside world how fresh and vital we feel.
Food nourishes our entire bodies with nutrients we need to stay energized, active and healthy all around. New York-based organic chef Mimi Platas finds that eating simply and staying away from refined sugars has helped her stay beautiful over the years and as she enters her 50s. “Making sure you are getting a balance of all necessary foods, including good oils, is important,” she believes. “People make the mistake of eliminating all oils [which often is also true when it comes to skin care], but our body needs healthy oils.” And eating well can decrease our risk of developing health problems as we age. Weleda esthetician and expert Helga Heller-Waltjen notes how important it is to eat whole foods with vital, essential nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes are beauty foods that support cell regeneration and healthy blood formation.
Oxygen is likewise essential to regenerate our cells, relieve tension and helps us look and feel more vibrant. “I try to remember at all times to keep breathing,” says Platas. “You really are as young as you feel. And Weleda products help me look and feel even younger. They are part of my everyday care.”
Body in motion
Exercise plays an especially important role in enhancing our mood, reducing irritability and boosting overall well being after the age of 40. A 2005 study by researchers at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, showed that those who exercise regularly live longer and healthier lives. The goal is to discover and stick to a type of exercise that we truly enjoy. Outdoor activities such as walking or cycling increase oxygen flow throughout the body and help reduce stress. Or consider trips to the pool. “Regular swimming strengthens the skin cells and connective tissues as well as the cardiovascular system,” says Heller-Waltjen. “And the resistance of our body to the water helps revitalize our entire self.” Whatever the type, exercise’s rhythmical movements bring our body and soul in harmony with each other. Through physical activity we can feel our own strength and become more aware of our body’s capabilities. And tensions and stresses from our daily life are eased.
The spirit of our time
The age of 40 marks a major milestone, signifying the point at which we have fully grown into ourselves. It is at this time that we begin to examine our past, present and future. We have gained knowledge from our vast life experiences and are now seeking to live a more balanced life that is uniquely our own.
One insight comes from the ancient Greeks’ observation that opportunities and challenges seem to arrive in seven-year cycles. This understanding was later adapted by Anthroposophy, a philosophical movement developed by renowned philosopher, natural scientist and Weleda co-founder Dr. Rudolf Steiner, to encourage the individual to see his or her body, mind and spirit as intrinsically linked to our world. Referred to as “Biography Work” this seven-year approach can be applied to all areas of our life. “The processes of ‘Biography Work’ help us understand our goals and desires at certain critical times,” says Jessica Ziegler, an executive coach and organizational development consultant who uses the knowledge of our life phases as a means for individuals to reflect on and hone their professional leadership skills. “We compare the past and present and look at important patterns. This review helps us understand that what is happening in our lives is a normal part of our development. In our 40s we start to develop a spirit of self-reflection,” explains Ziegler. “This time brings us new discoveries.”
With maturity comes fresh-faced perspective and awareness. Rather than asking ourselves, “What should I do with my life?”, as we’ve contemplated in our earlier years, we seek answer to questions such as “What is the value of what I’m doing with my life?” Age, therefore, offers us a new beginning and direction in life. We find new stores of energy to devote to important causes or passions that we may have thought were long forgotten. It is also important that we show ourselves gratitude and congratulate ourselves on where we are in life—finding comfort in our own skin.
Authentic beauty radiates when we are accepting of our age and where we naturally are in life, while still striving to be our best inside and out. When we consciously, actively and healthfully care for ourselves, our smile lines and lifelines are smoothed. As we relax into who and where we are in the present moment it is clear: we are truly ageless. dm and jb