Written by : Transcript – Living Better Longer With Caroline Paul 

Transcript – Living Better Longer With Caroline Paul

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Living Better Longer With Caroline Paul




[0:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 462 of Live Happy Now. We all have one thing in common, and that is that we are not getting any younger. But today’s guest gives us a whole new way to approach the years ahead of us.


I’m your host, Paula Felps, and today, I’m talking with New York Times bestselling author, Caroline Paul. Her new book, Tough Broad: From Boogie Boarding to Wing Walking―How Outdoor Adventure Improves Our Lives as We Age, turns some common myths about aging completely upside down. Combining stories of women who are embracing outdoor adventure in their later years with cultural and scientific research, Caroline gives us a roadmap for improving and enjoying the journey. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:46] PF: Caroline, thank you so much for joining us on Live Happy Now.


[0:00:50] CP: I’m really happy to join you, Paula. It’s going to be great.


[0:00:53] PF: You have written an amazing book. First of all, the title describes you, tough broad. So, that had my attention immediately. But this book is so engaging and it’s so inspiring, and in many ways, a call for us to up our game as we get older. So, I wanted to find out how this book came about, and really, who you are writing this for?


[0:01:15] CP: Honestly, I was kind of writing for myself. I was 55 and looking around on my surfboard and seeing no women my age surfing. I’m not a really good surfer. So, I knew there was a lot of women who could be out there, but they just weren’t out there. The same when I was on my electric skateboard. I saw no women my age, certainly no women older. And when I was flying my experimental planes, the same. But I saw men my age and men older.


So, I started to think, “Well, I’m seeing 60 blank on the horizon. What is my future look like?” I decided to go and ask women who – because I wanted to keep outdoor adventure in my life, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to. I kind of thought I was, but I wanted to go ask women who were there already. This is about those women. It’s actually about fulfilling aging and those women explained it to me.


[0:02:03] PF: Was it hard to find the people? Because you cover a lot of different types of activity and we’ll get into that. But was it difficult to track these women down?


[0:02:12] CP: It kind of was. I mean, first of all, women tend not to trumpet themselves on social media and stuff. So, you don’t find them that way as much. Frankly, it felt like there weren’t a lot of women out there doing these things. It turns out that they are out there. But what I did was I told everybody that I was working on this book and so people gave me names, and that started to snowball. Then, I did hire a researcher who found a lot of people.


[0:02:38] PF: Okay. That makes sense, because one thing that we really work on here at Live Happy Now is to make sure that we back everything with science. And your book, the stories are so rich, but every one of them is backed by the science of what it’s doing for us. How did that all – how did you marry all that? Did the story come first, and then you did research on what it was doing? Or how did those two components come together?


[0:03:03] CP: Honestly, I was going to throw myself sort of like the paraglider that I was, off a cliff, and with an inflated, shoot and float around and talk to these women, and see how the book would come about. But I knew I didn’t want it to be – it’s not a book about profiles about women. This is a book about fulfilling aging in the outdoors. How the outdoors optimizes that. So, in a weird way, the pandemic was good for me, because it hit just as I was about to go interview people so nobody could talk to me. I had to sit down and do a lot of research about fulfilling aging. And I started to see what we needed to keep in our lives, and I was thinking about how outdoor adventure married perfectly with that.


I went out and interviewed people doing specific adventures. I went and did the adventures with them. I usually had a specific idea of where that adventure would fit in to what I considered the five pillars of healthy aging. Usually, it came out completely surprised by something new. I was constantly schooled in this book, because again, it was a quest.


[0:04:05] PF: Yes. Can we talk about those five pillars?


[0:04:08] CP: Yes. The first four are pretty obvious. It’s we need, and we need as human beings, but they tend to fall away as we age. So, we have to be specifically cognizant that we need community. We need purpose. We need health. We need novelty. Those four things are really important as we age and they are harder to find. The last one, the one that intrigued me the most, the one that I actually started off with was we need a positive mindset about our own aging. The reason I say that is because I was interested in the messaging that we get as older women, because I had a feeling that was why these women weren’t out there in the water with me are in the air with me.


Because the messaging about women aging is really toxic and subliminal and insidious and we tend to believe it and the people around us believe it. It’s basically that our future is one of declining cognitive health, frail bones, and increasing irrelevance. I mean, frankly, we’re boring. You’ll hear – I mean, I hear this from a lot of my peers who were disheartened about their own aging. We feel invisible. We feel invisible to the culture.


So, I was interested in that messaging. Then, I found research that made it even more important to pay attention to because the research says that the way we look at our own aging predicts how well we age. That means negative view of aging, you actually have a significantly higher chance of a cardiac event earlier, cognitive decline earlier, and the opposite is true. If you look at your aging as a time of vitality and exploration, then you are going to be healthier, happier, and statistically, you live seven years longer. That seemed really important, and kind of mind-blowing. But the scientists had told us this, but they didn’t say how to get that positive mindset. Of course, when something, how are we going to do that in the face of such difficult and disheartening messaging, and I had a feeling that the key was an outdoor adventure.


[0:06:17] PF: It was, as we discover in your book. And I want to go back to what you were just talking about, and the research about how you aging affects how you age. Because it even changes your brain. Weren’t you saying that in the book, it talks about the brain of a person who had negative perceptions is actually different after death than someone who had positive perceptions about aging.


[0:06:39] CP: Yes, they had all those tangles and the neural ill health that signifies memory loss. I mean, they have actually shown that conversely, if you have a positive view on aging, you have a much higher chance of not turning on that AOPE4 gene that makes you more predisposed to Alzheimer’s. That’s pretty big. But we think it’s inevitable when we see both our parents or our grandparents have Alzheimer’s. We have that gene, but it’s actually not.


[0:07:10] PF: That is so interesting, because we just talked about the World Happiness Report last week, which came out, and one of the chapters was about well-being and dementia. It backs up everything that you talk about in your book where they had done all this research, and people who had a positive view of aging were less likely to develop dementia. At the same time, people with dementia who had a positive attitude, fared better with that dementia. It was really interesting to me to receive this report at the same time I’m reading your book because it was just like this companion research piece.


I love how you bring in the adventurer. I wanted to know as I read this, it seems like you were probably always adventurous, and what about women who haven’t been adventurous throughout their lives? How can they turn into someone who is a little bit more adventurous and try some of these things?


[0:08:05] CP: Yes. After I did my research, I was clear that the outdoors is really good for us. So, just getting outside is super important. Because as the science shows, it’s medicinal. From the tree chemicals that are emitted, to bird song, to even the architecture of like horizon lines that are soft and rounded, and the fractal nature of the outdoors is all really good for our well-being. On a biological level, it improves our immune system. It also makes it so our brain processes less noise, which makes it healthier and able to deal with what we really want to deal with.


So, people who took walks outside, for instance, tested better on cognitive and memory tests afterwards. Your brain wasn’t doing the busy work when it has to filter out noise, and just all this information that urban environments in the indoors, computers and stuff give you. So, I wanted them to get outside. I knew that adventure wasn’t for everybody, at least my definition of adventure, which is fairly was fairly high octane. So, I wanted to talk to all different kinds of people who got outside. Among them, for instance, was I went birdwatching. Birdwatching, no one would think of as an adventurer, including me. In fact, I was kind of like, “Yes, I’m doing a book about outdoor adventure.” Then, in my head, I was like, “You’re not an adventure but I’m going to include you because I wanted everybody out there.”


But it turns out, and all the bird watchers already know this, that bird watching is an adventure. Because there was the quest of trying to see the bird. There was the exhilaration when you saw it. There was the physical vitality because we actually walked and I was with Virginia Rose who’s actually in a wheelchair, and so she wheeled six miles. There was a physical vitality of an adventure. Basically, birdwatching had all the rhythms of an adventure and I had to – during the quest of that, was my book. One of the things that happened to me is I had to change, I’d expand my view of adventure and realize it’s not about the actual action. It’s about how you feel during it. So, if you’re accessing your exploratory side, feeling exhilaration, pushing maybe a comfort zone, feeling physical, vital. That’s an adventure. That was exciting to me.


[0:10:21] PF: One thing that you talk about, and I love this, because we’ve talked about it on the show, is the importance of awe, and how changing that can be to even just take a walk and experience awe. Can you kind of talk about that a little bit?


[0:10:35] CP: Yes. Well, it turns out another great reason why the outdoors is so healthy for us is that it’s a surefire trigger for awe. Because all is that feeling that you get in the presence of something bigger. It’s something that religion has used mostly, and we associated with religion. But in fact, we feel it when we look at the big sky. We look at the Grand Canyon. Of course, I felt it on some of my adventures. But it turns out, you don’t have to go. I mean, it is in the presence of something bigger that you feel, but you can also access awe. You can cultivate awe. They did studies on this here in San Francisco, where the researchers asked people between the ages of 60 and 80 to go on walks, and simply look at things with childlike wonder, with fresh childlike eyes, I think is a quote.


They were basically getting their participants to access awe. Then, they had a control group that just walked like we all walk, which is we ruminate and look at our phones. And they found after eight weeks that the people who were doing the awe walks had measurably different inflammatory markers. It went way down. Inflammation is a big sign of ill health. They reported feeling weightless, anxious, and depressed. And this was kind of crazy, they felt more compassion and gratitude, which makes sense, because awe is about seeing yourself in a larger picture. So, it made sense that they feel gratitude and compassion because you feel interconnected.


The other thing is, is that we live in a world of anti-awe devices, especially inside. Our phone, our computer, it’s all narrowing our focus, and making us seem like we have a lot of power and control. That’s the opposite of awe. It’s not that good for us. It gives us an inflated sense of ourselves and that’s not healthy. So, awe is good for us. Getting outside is a really easy way to access awe.


[0:12:25] PF: Yes, it is simple, and it’s like, if you get out every day and you do it, it will absolutely change the way that you see the world. As you bring up so many times throughout the book, your mindset makes such a difference in how you age. So, as you look at how you’re changing your mindset, what role does awe in developing positivity?


[0:12:49] CP: Well, I mean, I think that, just because it does – one of the things they call awe is a reset button for the brain. What it does is that it changes your neural patterns. It kind of shakes them up. It kind of opens them up. You become more open to new ideas. They found more creative. And all that is really important for, well, anything in your life, but certainly for your just exploratory spirit, and your sense that there’s more to do, more to access, just that openness. So, yes, awe is indispensable for our emotional well-being.


[0:13:25] PF: You talked about how good it is to be out in nature. But in the book, you really drill down into the combination of nature and movement.


[0:13:33] CP: Yes. Specifically, I was interested in ironically, not movement, but the brain. I wanted to know how a novelty was good for us, because I knew that one of the big things we worry about as we age is our memory. We need to keep challenging our brain. There is a sense that our brain is hardening, that we can’t learn new things, and that it’s probably withering away too. Well, it turns out, that’s not true. The brain is highly plastic. It is laying down new neural pathways, growing new brain cells, well into older age. I don’t even know if it ever stops. Even if you slow down some of the neural pathways for some reason, the brain then decides – they’ll figure out how to lay different routes. It’s almost like taking a different exit on the highway.


I mean, the brain is amazing. So, you can continue to learn and you continue to explore. One of the things I did was I was interested in memory, because we’re afraid of losing that. It turns out navigation and memory are in the same parts of our brain. So, I wanted to find someone who navigated in their outdoor sport. I found it orienteer. I went orienteering, which is basically when you race from a start line to a finish line, but you stop on checkpoints on the way that are on your map. Using your map, she called it running with a map and compass but she really call it running and thinking. [Inaudible 0:14:56]. What I found was that researched showed that if you actually are physically moving, you are more creative in your brain. Because our brain is not like a computer.


A lot of great thinkers like Einstein would go on walks, and they would come up with great ideas during or after, because there is a way that they have shown that if you use your kinetic self, when you are thinking of an idea, you have a greater chance of solving it. So, an all waves movement, which is obviously important, physically is also good neurally. Also, then you feel better about yourself.


[0:15:37] PF: I love that. We’ve become a society that’s just sitting down and stuck in front of a screen and not trying to go outside and get creativity that way. We’re trying to find it within. To change that –


[0:15:50] CP: We’re on the Internet.


[0:15:52] PF: Yes. I’ll just Google that. I’ll get my OpenAI and write that for me. But it is, like to be able to change that thinking, what have you seen it do either for yourself or someone else to start adopting that approach of saying, “I’m going to get up and move because I’m stuck on this problem.”


[0:16:12] CP: Well, let me just say, I’ll back up just a tiny bit and just say that. Back to that messaging about how we view ourselves, we have all these sort of subtle ideas about our own limitations as older women, especially because of the messaging that we get, and that’s what’s stopping us from going outside a lot. Because again, the messaging is about how frail and kind of incompetent we are, and boring, like I said. It’s just a sense that our life is narrowing down. But what I found with the women I interviewed, especially the ones that had never gone outside before, that when they did – so, for instance, I went boogie boarding with a bunch of women in San Diego, and they were between the ages of 60 and in their 90s playing in the water.


I talked to someone named Lorraine Voight. At 60, she saw these women when she was walking on the beach during the pandemic, and she thought, “Oh, they’re having fun.” But she had no outdoor experience. She didn’t even like the water. But it was that inflection point. It’s the pandemic and she had had really tough 50s with deaths and just a lot of like reversals in her life. It was kind of a what the heck moment, probably, and she got in the water with them, and she was hooked.


But not only did she love boogie boarding, she said to me, “Caroline, boogie boarding changed my life.” Now, boogie boarding is a very simple activity. That’s something that kids do. I mean, you really are just – you’re just on a little floatation and just let the wave push you to shore. How could it change your life? I asked her, “How could it change your life?” She said, “Basically, look at the big cold Pacific Ocean. Look at the tumbling that happens. Look at the fun I’m having.” Basically, what she was telling me, she had up ended her own expectations of herself by simply taking those steps into the water. Because of that, it opened up all these other things about what she could do.


[0:18:02] PF: I love that you bring up fun, because as adults, we tend to forget how important that is. Adventure is fun. It can be terrifying. But also, it’s fun, and we need to be able to bring fun into our lives.


[0:18:19] CP: Well, I looked into play, which is an actual science. I mean, people look into the benefits of play, and it’s incredibly important. I mean, it’s what we do to get to know ourselves better, and the people around us and community. I mean, that’s what we did as kids. That’s what dogs do in the dog park. You’re right. It’s actually a trust exercise. It’s actually, obviously, you’re getting physical vitality, but then there’s lots of connection because there’s a dance to it.


Yes, play is important, and it’s especially something that we lose not just as adults, but as women, because we’re sort of expected to be such a certain way and trod such a particular path. Really, women are really watched a lot during their life in certain ways and judged. So, play is something that is scary for us because it’s an abandon that – I say the word unruly in the book, and I think that’s really apt. Unruly is an unusual way to describe women. We don’t want to be described that way usually. But play is really good for us and it lets loose this sense of judgment. You don’t care what other think and you’re simply connecting with somebody else.


[0:19:28] PF: So, as women are listening to this, and they’re saying, “Oh, my God. I want to be her. I want to do that.” But there’s something that holds us back. It’s like, “Oh, my husband, my spouse, my kids, whatever. What will the neighbors think?” Kind of thing. How do we break out of that kind of thinking of like, “Yes, that’s great. I wish I could, but I can’t.”


[0:19:51] CP: I’ve heard this a lot from people and it is hard to break out of our comfort zone. Especially, as women, we’re not really taught to. I think men are often given training for very young age to kind of burst out and try new things and explore on your own and do it on your own. We are not. I did a lot of research on this for my book for girls. We are basically taught to be fearful about a lot of things at a very young age, which means we don’t have that exploratory spirit, and we don’t trust ourselves.


Here’s what I say, I say, I’m just trying to convince you how good it is for you to go outside and have an activity outside, and experience those aspects of adventure, like I said. So, if you believe me on that, you take pharmaceuticals, for whatever ails you, because you think it’s going to make you feel better. There are always side effects. In fact, there’s a very long list of side effects that are really unpleasant. They look like vomiting, diarrhea, don’t drive ahead a vehicle. I could go on. I mean, you see them on the TV.


If going outside your comfort zone or feeling a little fear, feels like something insurmountable, I urge you to think of it as just a little side effect of this incredibly health-giving pill that you’re going to take. It is not only health-giving, but it’s just going to open up your life in ways that I want you to tell me after you do it. Because again, as a rebuke to all the messaging you get, you find out things about yourself in the smoke without even trying. It’s not like you’re sitting down at a test and being like, “Now, I have to figure out about myself.” No, you’re just going outside to birdwatch.


That’s what I just say. It’s a side effect. I want you to take a small step. Do not fly a gyrocopter like I did for the book.


[0:21:31] PF: But that was a great story.


[0:21:33] CP: Do not BASE jump like somebody else I interviewed. Do not scuba dive like Louise Wholey who’s 80. Don’t do that. Take a walk with a friend. Do not learn to swim, maybe, like [inaudible 0:21:44] did. But go to the ocean and play in the side of the waves. Just push your comfort zone a tiny bit and I think it’ll start to somersault as you find that – first of all, let me add one more thing, which is that every woman told me who was older than me that the 60s was their favorite decade.


[0:22:02] PF: I love that.


[0:22:04] CP: I know. It was unbelievable, because we’re not told that. We’re told that our best years are behind us. I remember my supposed best years and they were angst-filled and insecure. Now, I feel great. I enjoy everything, because I have that capacity to do it. So, we cannot let this slip by, by giving in to things like a little fear, like a little discomfort about our comfort zone. Because it’s such an opportunity. It will be the best decade of your life or if you’re past 60, the 70s, the 80s.


[0:22:34] PF: I had an aunt who died at, she was either 96 or 97. I can’t remember which. She had told me when I was younger, I was a lot like her. I tended to speak whatever was on my mind. She explained me like, “Yes, you will get in trouble. As a child, they’re going to say you’re insolent. As a young adult, they’re going to say you’re immature. As a middle-aged person, they’re going to be like, we’re not really sure about her.” She goes, “Once you hit 60, you can say anything you want, then now, you’re the quirky fun person.” I was like, “Oh, man, so she really had me like looking forward to this.”


[0:23:09] CP: We’re underestimated, and sometimes it’s good to be underestimated and so –


[0:23:13] PF: Exactly.


[0:23:15] CP: You’re invisible. Go do what you want.


[0:23:17] PF: See if anyone finds out. You interviewed so many different women. You tell such great stories. One way I look at this book is as kind of like a catalogue of adventures that you could try. Like, “Oh, I never even thought about that.” I wondered if there was any single person or adventure that affected you most?


[0:23:41] CP: All these women were amazing to me. I mean, I looked at women who were of different races, because I know that it’s really hard for people of color to feel welcome outside. Of course, different abilities and different knowledge. Everybody amazed me. I feel like that since I mean really honestly, the chapter that was the most moving to me, of course, was writing about my own mother, who turns out was my subliminal messaging that made me blossom because I saw the way she opened up as she aged. That chapter was, of course, really important for me to write and difficult, and perhaps the most moving.


[0:24:19] PF: Yes. Did you have any surprise learnings when you set out to write a book –


[0:24:23] CP: Every single time. No, I came in with a swagger like, “This is an adventure.” Then, realized, when I went on a walk with a 93-year-old, just a mere walk was eye-opening and exhilarating because of the way she did it. She looked at everything. She quoted poetry while we did it. She looked at the sky, she looked at the birds. I mean, basically we went on an awe walk. I hadn’t yet discovered awe, because awe discovered in this book. I did not understand that concept at all until I found it myself. But I had gone on an awe walk with dot. So, I guess I was just continually surprised.


[0:25:04] PF: And as you look back on the experience of writing it, what was your biggest learning, would you say?


[0:25:10] CP: Well, that, a small thing like an outdoor adventure will cover all the pillars of healthy aging. People say, but I can go to a book club, or I go to the gym, and all that is great. You got to do that too. But I’m just saying, it’s to have the whole enchilada, basically, of community, purpose, novelty, vitality, and keep surprising and up ending expectations. Keep that positive mindset about your own aging. It’s really an outdoor activity that will do it for you. Here’s my final thing is that, with the climate chaos, we need to get out because it’s disappearing. We only save what we love, as somebody said, someone very smart. So, if we begin to see just how vital the outdoors is, maybe we can save it before it’s too late.


[0:25:56] PF: I love that. I love that. Caroline, you have written a fantastic book. We are going to tell our listeners where they can find it. I strongly encourage them to pick it up during your 50s or up, or if you know someone, it is truly one of those books that gives so much inspiration, and even excitement about moving into the next 30 years. First of all, thank you for writing it, and then thank you for coming on the show and talking about it.


[0:26:19] CP: Such an honor. Thank you, Paula. Thank you.




[0:26:25] PF: That was Caroline Paul, talking about how outdoor adventure improves our lives as we age. If you’d like to learn more about Caroline, follow her on social media, or buy a copy of her book, Tough Broad. Just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our weekly Live Happy newsletter. Every Tuesday, we’ll drop a little bit of joy in your inbox with the latest stories, podcast info, and even a happy song of the week.


That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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