This week I will celebrate my 63rd birthday. I gave birth to my daughter, our second child, just weeks after my own mother turned 63 thirty-one years ago. Mom would live another 20 years before passing away at 83 from congestive heart failure, one of the complications of her long struggle with diabetes. My father would live to the age of 87 in spite of heart problems before passing away of dementia related complications. Both of Dad’s brothers and his sister lived into their 80s and 90s as did his mother and father. His aunt, my great-aunt Marie lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and beyond. Save for one brother who was a heavy smoker, the other 4 siblings of Mom’s attained at least octogenarian status, with two of them still alive at the ages of 90 and 95. It goes without saying that I come from a family of long livers and I hope to become one myself. That being said, I would like to remain as healthy as possible so that I can fully enjoy those more senior years on my own terms. I don’t want to spend my Golden Years visiting doctors, filling prescriptions and being dependant on other people to assist me with everyday life tasks.
Listen, I get it. We all get older and our bodies or our minds sometimes fail us. Based on family history I know I have to be proactive in maintaining regular medical tests and doctor’s visits to insure that I am not showing signs of the ailments that my parents suffered. We are fortunate these days that medical science has developed predictive screenings for afflictions like breast cancer, cardiovascular respiratory disease, arthritis, diabetes and many more. Also there have also been great strides in medicine and surgery to improve well-being, longevity and sometimes even cure serious medical conditions which in the past may not have been possible. Sadly, some folks see doctors and prescriptions as the primary solution to a life of poor personal health choices. Even though my family has been blessed with having excellent access to health insurance services which we take advantage of for regular medical, dental, and eye exams, others are not so lucky. Still, there are lifestyle choices that can reduce the likelihood of dependence on medical procedures or drugs as we age. At 63, I take no prescription drugs and I hope to keep it that way as long as possible.
I believe that the one lifestyle choice that is the most effective in helping me to maintain good health is staying active. Over the years, and depending on circumstances, that could mean walking, running, playing sports, having a physically demanding job, biking, skiing, or any other number of things as long is it gets me out of my seat and moving. We have always had a dog and that means daily walks and play periods. Moving is good, but getting your heart rate up while you are moving is even better. Resistance training, like weight lifting is also important, it not only builds muscles and burns calories, but also helps to strengthen your bones. My husband and I schedule a trice weekly visit to the student fitness center at the university for a workout that includes both cardio and resistance training. And those thrice weekly visits to the gym help us to maintain another healthy lifestyle choice for seniors, that of socializing.
While maintaining good physical fitness and staying active is important as we age, maintaining good mental health and cognitive flexibility is equally important. Even writing these blogs help to keep me engaged and exercising my brain. Since moving to Maine in retirement, I have taken advantage of several opportunities to learn a new skills by becoming a literacy volunteer or helping foreign students at the university practice their verbal communication skills in English. I have taught myself to play golf and tried to teach myself to play the guitar (with limited success). I believe the key is to keep challenging my brain to keep my cognitive abilities sharp. I understand that there are things that we cannot control regarding our health as we advance in age. But I am convinced that we can increase our chances of delaying or avoiding major medical problems if we take a proactive approach to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.