Part One: Changing our Mindset and Determining the Life We Want
The thought of living a very long life makes me feel…well, tired. But the thought of living a very long active and healthy life makes me feel just the opposite: excited! There is so much I want to do and that list just gets longer every year, despite the numerous goals I check off. So many things to do, so many new things to try, so many places to see…and only a lifetime to fit them in, however long mine will be.
Having worked in a geriatric hospital for several years, I saw the continuum of care that was required as we get older. From independent living to assisted living to long-term care to palliative care to hospice, it was interesting to see at what age this continuum begins. That, as it happens, depends on how healthy we are, both physically and mentally. Some folks live independently well into their nineties while others begin to need assistance in their fifties and sixties. What directly determines when this change occurs is the life they have led to that point, primarily their nutritional and fitness habits. If they have been overweight, inactive and eaten poorly for many years, they will most likely suffer the consequences of poor health in later years.
At an emotional level, living with stress can also negatively impact physical health. And the brain is like any muscle: if you don’t use it, it gets weaker. So mental inactivity (watching TV vs. reading, for example) further disintegrates the quality of life from age 60 and beyond.
So there is good news and bad news: The good news is that healthcare in America is among the finest in the world. The bad news is that the majority of older Americans is not as active and healthy, and is more prone to need their healthcare for various issues and diseases. It is inevitable that the less active we are, the more susceptible we become to weight gain and health issues.
For myself, I don’t want to be 50, 60 or 70 and sitting in an armchair all day because I can’t do much else. I have seen seniors play tennis, golf, swim, fitness walk and use the gym well into their eighties. That’s what I want to be doing…not sitting in front of the TV watching Judge Judy and the local news waiting for someone to come visit me. I want to be the one up and out every day with fun things to do and people (and not doctors) to see.
So here’s the point: we need to plan and live now for the way we want to live later. That means paying attention to what we eat now, not just to lose weight or feel better, but to ward off the diseases and other health risks that could cut our options short later in life. We need to get fit and stay active now, so we will be more physically fit and flexible later. Physical activity, particularly strength training, is vital for strong bones and will counter the natural depletion of calcium and decreased bone density that aging brings. It will also make us far more stable on our feet, reducing the shaky balance and tendency to fall that so many older Americans experience.
The first step is to have a mentor in your mind: Think of someone in their seventies or eighties who is currently living the life you hope to live at their age. Look at what they eat and what they do for activity. Chances are if they are active and healthy at that age, they have a very well-rounded approach: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
I am fortunate to have a role model for myself in my family. My mother is 73 years old and as healthy as can be, a physically active woman living in the woods of Maine. She has been eating healthy food for as long as I can remember, occasionally treating herself to a bag of Lays potato chips in between her surprisingly well-balanced meals. She is an artist, and has chosen the life she most wanted, so she is happy. She has strong spiritual beliefs and lives according to her moral and spiritual values. She teaches art in a university and is an avid reader, so she is mentally active. This combination of physical, emotional, spiritual and mental activity is the key to her overall excellent health. And her excellent health is what will allow her to continue to live the life she loves, for many, many more years.
So look around you and find a mentor who can be a power of example of good health to you. If you can’t find one in your own life, think of celebrities. It is important to have an image to strive towards.
In Part Two, we’ll take a look at the practical application of some tips and techniques to help integrate solid nutritional and physical health into your daily life as a way of preventing various diseases. See you then!
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