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Go Outside and Play

Go Outside and Play

Guide on Go Outside and Play

Thrill seeker Caroline Paul wants you to keep your foot on the gas and follow her roadmap for aging well. Adventuring outside is a glorious health booster sure to greatly improve our lives and wellbeing well into our golden years.

The 60-year-old adventurer is into surfing, mountain biking and piloting experimental gyrocopters (see her fly on her Instagram) but you don’t have to skydive or bungee jump to soar to better health. It turns out, birdwatching or walking in a park offers all the benefits of adventure and can positively affect a person’s spirit, body, brain, and heart.

Louise Wholey scuba dives at 80 years old.
Louise Wholey scuba dives at 80 years old.

Caroline is the author of Tough Broad: From Boogie Boarding to Wing Walking – How Outdoor Adventure Improves Our Lives as We Age, and the tough broads she writes about jump off cliffs, out of planes, and swim, birdwatch, bike, scuba dive and more. They are “super fun, kind of badass women” playing outdoors well into their 70s and 80s and beyond. There’s 80-year-old scuba diver Louise Wholey, 74-year-old BMX racer Miss Kittle, 71-year-old wing walker Cynthia Hicks, and 54-year-old base jumper Shawn Brokemond.

Shawn Brokemond base jumps at 54 years old.
Shawn Brokemond base jumps at 54 years old.

Feel joy, awe and vitality

Caroline admits to being utterly “gobsmacked” by the outsized joy and vitality of everyone she interviewed, many of whom had no outdoor experience before finding the adventure in later life that changed them so profoundly, and which they now love and shared with her. Caroline wants every woman to feel that joy, to be inspired to adventure, not shrink from it.

Society tells aging women to retreat and wither away but the secret to a good life is to venture out in nature, set goals and try something new. “The biggest misconception about aging is that it sucks. The messaging to women is especially disheartening – the culture, the media, and our own deeply lodged beliefs insist that our future will be a white-knuckle ride through breaking bones, cognitive decline, and irrelevance. Supposedly, we’re boring!”

We’re led to believe that it’s dangerous for women to engage at a later age in the uncertainty and physical risk of an adventure. Nonsense! “It’s actually a really powerful time, and perfect for exploration and exhilaration,” she says. “Being brave and curious and energetic aren’t just reserved for 20- or 30-year olds. We’ve assigned them those attributes but they belong to all of us.”

Negative views impact aging

Get rid of that limiting mindset because we are what we think. Research shows that the way we look at our own aging predicts how well we will age. “So if we have a negative view, seeing ourselves as unattractive, frail, forgetful and insignificant, then we are more likely to suffer cardiac events early and experience cognitive decline sooner.”

More important, the opposite is true: if we believe that aging is a time of vitality and happiness and connection, we are significantly healthier physically and cognitively, and we live on average seven years longer, adds Caroline.

So just how to believe in a dazzling future in the face of such toxic messaging about aging? Turns out outdoor adventuring is not just fun and healthy, it’s a direct rebuke to all that toxic messaging, says Caroline, who combines scientific research, cultural studies, medicine, psychology, and memoir in her book, sharing women’s narratives alongside her own incredible experiences.

Learn something new now

Caroline suggests bringing a friend along, and also don’t get stuck on somebody else’s concept of an adventurous activity. Adventure is defined by you. At one time she had a very high-octane definition of adventure – she regularly paraglided off cliffs, rafted down unexplored rivers and bike-packed through foreign countries.

Adventurer and author Caroline Paul loves to surf.
Adventurer and author Caroline Paul loves to surf.

“But through the writing of Tough Broad, I realized that adventure doesn’t have to feature high risk and intense fear!” Now for Caroline, it’s about feeling excitement, exploration and physical vitality, maybe pushing comfort zones, sometimes experiencing awe, and often learning something new.

Fortunately, these traits can be triggered by the mere act of walking outside, swimming in a lake, or birdwatching. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot: A pair of sneakers allows you to train for a 5K run or amble on a day hike. Outdoor equipment can be had on the cheap these days by perusing second-hand internet sites.

Read more about Boost your brain health with 5 exercises.

Better than medication

“Maybe downhill skiing is still expensive, but snowshoeing is not. Sailing a boat costs, but a used sea kayak or stand-up paddle board is a one-time expense, and then all the lakes are open to you for free,” she says.

Research has established that the crucial foundations for a fulfilling aging journey are community, novelty, health, purpose and, finally, a positive mindset about our own aging. “An outdoor activity offers this to all of us organically in one fell swoop, in ways that, say, joining a book club or going to the gym do not.”

Need more convincing? “It’s worth pointing out that outdoor activities are often cheaper than pharmaceuticals, are better for you, more effective and have less side effects.” 

Don’t wait – get gutsy and find your inner tough broad. Stepping out of your comfort zone will feel amazing. Your body, mind and spirit will fly with awe and good health.

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