Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Grey Matter, White Matter

I've been thinking a lot about aging this week. During my yoga practice I noticed that my lower back had some weird pain, just a small twinge, when I flatten out my back and lift up. I've never had that pain before and I don't know what could be causing it except maybe that I'm not as young I used to be. Not that I'm old by any stretch. Not by a long shot. I just have to actually be conscious of my health now.

This weekend, my niece is visiting me. She is 21 months. I'm having a blast chasing her around. Today we went apple picking and I got to experience that joy all over again with fresh eyes. I forgot how much fun it is to be out in the fresh air, picking apples, and running up grassy hills. When we got back to my apartment tonight, I went into the bathroom to wash my face and noticed that I look shockingly younger. And it's not that I have some magic moisturizer. I think it's just the glow of happiness that we gain by being around a little ball of energy.

Earlier this week, I heard Jean Chatzky speak. She's been thinking a lot about aging lately, too. And she's been doing some research involving neuroscience. Specifically neuroscience that relates to aging. As it turns out when we are very young, our grey matter is growing, too. Literally, the number of neurons is increasing, making us, well, neurotic. So all those crazy thoughts and emotions and mood swings we have in our teens and 20's are to be expected. Blame it on the growth of grey matter. After our 20's, the growth of grey matter slows and the growth of white matter, the part of our brain that connects our neurons, grows well into middle age. So this process of becoming older and wiser is not a nice metaphor to make us feel better about aging. It actually has some serious science behind it. As we age we become less neurotic and more able to see connections between thoughts, ideas, and experiences.

What keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is how do I keep my body young and my brain moving forward at the same time. The greatest question of our time, I suppose. How do we make sure to keep our outlook fresh while also preserving the wisdom we've worked so hard to attain? How do I keep the energy of youth and take comfort in having an old soul? Perhaps it's just a balance - holding my youth in one hand and my age in the other. There is a time for age old wisdom and a time for a new outlook. The trick is to know when to utilize each.


Sharnanigans said...

let me know when you figure it out!!! Now I have a baby I feel I have aged many years in 10 months - sleepless nights. But having also just turned 30 - there has been a definite shift. Definitely wiser, and definitely a little wrinklier. But fitter than I have ever been. I don't know if we can ever be completely wise and in complete physical health - but probably about now is as good as we are going to get it so ENJOY!

Christa said...

Hi Sharni - I think the 30's really are the best. I much prefer them to my 20's!