With the advent of my 70th birthday this summer and a recent invitation to my 50th class reunion at Mount Allison University in the spring of 2016, the prospect of ageing has been much on my mind. I’ve also been told by more than one psychic that I will live well into my 90’s. Yikes! Moreover, it’s difficult to not think about ageing when looking in the mirror every day or seeing people around me coming down with strange illnesses. My friends and I make jokes about it vowing to never give in to it as our parents did. Not for us the canes, walkers, or, heaven forbid, a nursing home! No way! If we are going to live longer than any previous generation then we want to be healthy so we can enjoy it to the max. We want it all! If we should get sick and have to depend on outside help, we joke about getting a gun or pills or better still get someone to put us in a boat and send us out to sea. All joking aside, however, we know this is not the answer so we worry about how we are going to deal with our remaining years or as some are calling it – our third act in the play of life. Our parents called them “the golden years” but found out they weren’t so golden when they realized what it all entailed.
In a recent article in our daily newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, Jan Wong writes that North America needs to take a more natural approach to ageing instead of resorting to hair dyes, Botox, and tummy tucks. In her words, we need “a cultural revolution on how to grow old”. I think she might be on to something.
So here we are, we women of 60 plus in years, vowing to never check into a nursing home (assisted living might be fine if we can afford it) and wanting to remain healthy so we can maintain our independence. As far as I am concerned, to achieve this we need to be creative about it and work at it or as Wong says initiate a cultural revolution. It won’t just happen unless we are one of the lucky ones like my husband who has inherited a good set of genes. He just turned 80 and is still going strong despite adopting the kind of healthy life style I am advocating. Here is my recipe for healthy longevity.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that we need to open up our minds to what some of the alternatives could be as opposed to relying totally on the medical field which is heavy into using drugs to fix every problem our poor old bodies might develop. This can work for some if they have good medical care and a health plan but for many it doesn’t always work. With prolonged use of multiple drugs, the user’s health often deteriorates resulting in the walkers, wheelchairs, and assisted nursing care which we all want to avoid.
Personally, I prefer to meet the challenge of ageing by using a little prevention, and so over the years I have probably spent a small fortune on supplements and herbs as one way to keep me healthy. In addition to that, I try to eat a balanced diet striving to avoid fast foods and anything that comes in a can or a box. This is very difficult when travelling with Hubby who definitely likes his fast food treats and will use any excuse to get them. While at home, I try to make our meals from scratch as much as I can. My little vegetable garden in the summer helps me to do this.
I recently heard Dick Van Dyke, who is now in his 89th year, being interviewed on CBC’s “Q” morning show. He has just written yet another book on the subject of ageing, and his answer to dealing with it is to “keep moving”. He suffers from arthritis throughout his body but refuses to give in to the pain so just keeps moving. He was asked whether he includes romance and sex as one of his physical activities to which he didn’t hesitate to respond that he married his younger wife four years ago after losing his last wife – not to mention many of his friends. Losing those closest to him was one of the most difficult things he’s had to deal with so his answer was to just keep on dancing with his wife to the tune of life.
What do I do to keep active besides gardening and keeping my house presentable? For many years, I have been doing my own brand of yoga at home which includes interesting postures and lots of stretching. In addition, I try to walk up and down the hills in our little village. However, I can do so much more when I am away travelling because then I usually find myself in the city with no car. To keep within my budget and to get my much-needed exercise, I use my feet instead of taxis or public transportation for moving around.
Good, now we have taken care of how to keep our bodies healthy, but what about our minds? So much of our behaviour stems from what is going on in our heads. We need to open up our minds and try to see things from a different perspective. Then we can change some of our old beliefs that may no longer serve us very well. One way to do this as I have discovered is through travel. I love seeing new countries that are different from Canada, learning their history and observing how they are living today. Although language is often a barrier, I try to learn as much as I can by finding those who do speak my language or just reading books about whatever country I am visiting.
For those people who haven’t the will or the way to travel, they can stimulate their minds by reading and most importantly get out and about. They can volunteer their services to the community in some area which suits their skills and interests. Some are seeking part-time jobs or setting up their own businesses. We just need to make the effort to get out and join up with others in whatever way we can. We mustn’t stay at home and do nothing feeling like our lives are over.
I am fine when I am travelling as I meet so many interesting people and see so many new sights, but when I get back to Victoria Beach for up to seven months I must find more than just my home and garden to keep my body and mind occupied. This has been a challenge. I have tried working for others such as, at a local coffee shop, an antique store, and a short stint for Efficiency Nova Scotia promoting energy-saving light bulbs. I even tried hiring myself out as a healer in Reiki and chakra balancing but none of these really worked for me. Today I have discovered that I am happiest at work that is related to my travels which has resulted in a small import business and my blog writing.
Stimulating our mental state can help develop a positive attitude towards life if we haven’t already got one. Not everyone sees the glass as “half full” because they are not genetically inclined or simply have not been wired this way. Again by changing our thought patterns, we can change our perspective and begin to see things in a more positive light. It’s all got to do with those thoughts. I am not saying it’s easy to change them, but it can be done consciously by choosing what we think and say, and if it’s negative be aware of it and let it go. We can change that negative thought into something positive. If it’s pouring rain outside and we see it as ruining our day, then it will. Why not look at something positive about it such as how it could be the perfect day to curl up with a good book and read, or whatever else we enjoy doing? Get busy instead of sitting and thinking about how miserable it is outside. For those people who suffer from lack of light, then turn on the lights to brighten up your home. For every negative thought think something positive instead. If we do this every time we are feeling negative, it will become easier over time. Guaranteed! A positive attitude goes a long way towards fending off depression.
The third and final component we need to nurture if we are going to help this process of ageing is the spiritual. We all have a soul and we need to feed it. The traditional way for us to do that was to attend church every Sunday. Today this is losing favour with most people for many reasons but there are other ways we can do this for our soul. One of them is to never stop growing. We need to keep learning not only about our external world but about ourselves. Who are we and what is it we are passionate about? These are questions I know that I will keep asking myself until that day comes when I choose to leave this world behind. So many people as they grow older after their families have moved away or for whatever other traumatic event or loss that has happened in their lives simply give up growing. They often become the recluses of this world.
This is my recipe for dealing with ageing for the present time, and I can see it lasting well into my 70’s. The question then is what about my 80’s? I am sure they will be more challenging, but I hope I will be able to deal with them in the same way with perhaps a few alterations. All I need to do is look at my husband who is now in his 80’s and showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, sometimes I think he’s becoming better as he ages, at least mentally and spiritually. His physical is beginning to show some wear, but he is still drug free except for a small dosage of blood pressure pills and doesn’t need any help in moving around. He has strong familial genes as does his sister who is just a few years behind him and still looks fabulous.
If I follow this recipe I know that there is no real guarantee that it will prolong my life and keep me disease free, but at least it will make whatever life I have left a whole lot happier and more at peace with myself and the world around me. It’s certainly something worth striving for, don’t you think? I would love to receive any comments you might have on this somewhat weighty subject.