Some people dread getting older. For Nelson Aspen, turning 50 was a milestone he embraced with both arms wide open. In his new memoir, My Prime Time, he takes a warm and lighthearted look at enjoying the aging process, looking after your physical and emotional wellbeing, and cherishing the positives.
We had a chat with Nelson about his philosophies for living a vibrant and fulfilling life…
What makes ‘the middle years’ the prime time of life?
There’s this expression ‘the past is prologue’ and I’ve never felt that more keenly than now. I feel like everything I’ve worked for, suffered through, survived and enjoyed was leading up to this. I feel like I am at the top of my game; I’ve never felt better. I like who I am and what I’m doing, my work is rewarding, my relationships are fulfilling – everything’s amazingly fantastic.
So many people only realise things are great when they’re gone, and then they wish they had appreciated it. I’m really very aware of how marvellous my life is and it’s really evident to me that what I did in my 20s, what I did in my 30s and what I did in my 40s was setting me up for enjoying my 50s.
What are the most important lessons about health and wellbeing that you’ve learned?
Someone recently compared health to a savings account. It’s easy when you’re young to take withdrawals from your health savings account but rarely do we deposit back in. I’ve always been lucky to have that balance – I may eat, drink and make merry, but then I train for a marathon.
I was a tremendously overweight child, back when nobody was worried about childhood obesity. I’ve had a love-hate affair with food all my life, so I tend to have to watch going to extremes. It’s not in a dramatic, health hazard kind of way, but I do go to extremes either in indulging or exercising off. It’s easy for me to get obsessed with burning calories, just as easy as it is for me to get obsessed with ingesting calories, so that’s something I have to watch.
How do you like to stay active?
I’m an avid runner. I’ve run 20 marathons since my first one in around 2000. I’m not athletically gifted or particularly coordinated, but I can run. I’m an endurance junkie – I enjoy the challenge of distance running, I like the solitude of training, and I like the caloric burning of running. It suits me very well.
In my frenzied work life I do find running meditative. If I wanted to work 24 hours a day I could – with the time difference between New York and Australia I can communicate with my offices at any waking moment. So the only way to turn off the show biz monster is to put on my shoes, go outside and go running, I don’t wear headphones, I don’t think about J-Lo, I just run and I think my own thoughts that have nothing to do with show business. It’s just me time.
What are some other ways you relax and unwind?
That’s about it – I work and I run and I repeat! Since moving back to New York full time two years ago I have the world’s greatest restaurants at my disposal, so I like to go out and have a lovey dinner with a friend or two. Then I work and run some more.
What are your tips for healthy eating at restaurants?
It can be a bit of a challenge when eating out. Sometimes you think it will be easy to customise your food to your dietary desires, but it’s really quite the opposite – you really have no control over how they’re preparing it or what they’re preparing it with. I’m a big fish eater, so when I go out I eat fish wherever possible to get my omega-3 fatty acids.
As much as I’m really not interested in a small green salad, I’ve learned that if I order a salad with my meal it’s not only healthier for me, it will also keep me from picking at the bread or ordering a side or wanting dessert after. That’s the trick – always ordering a small green salad with whatever I’m eating.
What are your go-to quick, healthy meals when you’re short on time?
I’m not afraid of pasta, I think pasta has its place. My quick go-to meal is usually pasta with tonnes of fresh veggies. I always keep fresh produce in the house and I always keep lots of frozen vegetables in the freezer. As much as you might want to make an entire box of pasta and eat it, if you make twice as many vegetables and a little pasta you still get the gratification of the carbs and the benefits of all the healthy carbs of the vegetables.
I’m a great believer in having pizza bases available so you can put whatever you want on it and it’s a great easy dinner. Then it’s just about little tricks, like I buy the thin crust now instead of the thick crust, or shredding broccoli or topping it with chopped spinach instead of using so much cheese.
What are your top tips for making the most of prime time?
Appreciating it. If you’re not aware of your blessings, you’re missing out. 20 years ago I came across a little book with five blank lines for each day – a ‘book of blessings.’ I still take a moment throughout the course of my day to write down five things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s all the same stuff, sometimes it’s different stuff, sometimes it’s silly stuff. Just being aware of your blessings is what matters.
Getting enough sleep. Sleep is really important. I don’t get enough of it, but just maintaining some kind of a schedule is healthy for you. I don’t think sleep is something you can bank – you can’t catch up on it on the weekend, it doesn’t work like that. You need some kind of consistent rest.
Having self-confidence is one of the perks of getting older. When you’re not desperately trying to be liked all the time, I think that makes you healthy in so many ways. When you like yourself, you take care of yourself.
Doing things for other people. I talk a lot in the book about how doing things for other people is good for you. It could be something really simple, like taking someone out for coffee. I think doing something for others is really the secret to humanity.
Entertainment reporter, author and running enthusiast Nelson Aspen shares lessons learned on getting the most out of life.