Living a Long time
Two Interesting Articles
Last week I read two interesting articles on milestone Birthdays. The first one was written by Jane Brody, in the New York times, whom I have been reading off and on for 40 years. She opened this latest article, A Birthday Milestone: Turning 80! with a question and an answer.
“The secret to a happy and vibrant old age? Strive to do what you love for as long as you can do it.”
This fits with my experience. I often say that retirement is not part of my vocabulary. There are several reasons for that but the dominant one is that I love what I am doing. Writing my blog, facilitating webinars and programs for people living with illness and playing an influential role in my grandchildren’s lives gives my life meaning and purpose. Furthermore, I should mention, cycling, poetry, nature photography and learning new things. I am lucky to have several reasons to get up in the morning.
Here is the thing.
The work I do is not a job. It’s a way of life, and although I realize that I need to systematically reevaluate how much time I devote to my work I have no desire to give it up.
I love how Jane Brody, a columnist, writes easily about “lost words and grammatical errors,” as she turns 80 this year. I notice the same lapses as I turn 75, but the difference is she has an editor who fixes her lapses and mine go, imperfectly, out into the world. Yikes! Although in my webinars, when I forget a word, I invite my participants to call it out to me. They always know and generously get me back on track. I was delighted when I came to be emotionally relaxed about those dropped words and could easily ask for help. I simply see my brain as being filled to overflowing and on occasion it springs a leak.
An important part of living well and long is a gentle and realistic acceptance of the things that may no longer be possible. Brody puts it this way: “If the vicissitudes of life or infirmities of age preclude a preferred activity, modify it or substitute another. I can no longer safely skate, ski or play tennis, but I can still bike, hike and swim. I consider daily physical activity to be as important as eating and sleeping. I accept no excuses. And as you can see I still write…”
Brody doesn’t mince words about how we can help ourselves have fewer lost words, fewer aches and pains, and fewer mobility issues by getting enough sleep, moving our body everyday, eating healthy food and not too much, and maintaining a strong and vital social life. This is where my mind is going now – the need to make time for these basics. We all know the value of the basics. It is not lack of information that is the problem rather it is lack of consistent action. Not for all, I’m sure. I suspect that you are much better than me dear reader, but I am ready to turn over a new leaf once again.
Dr. Muriel Gillick
This brings me to the second article, by Dr.Muriel Gillick, a physician who specializes in the care of patients with advanced illness (palliative care) or advanced age (geriatrics), or both. She is also a professor at Harvard Medical School, writes a blog called Life In the End Zone, and she just turned 70. Coincidentally, she quotes Jane Brody this week too, and between the two articles I realized that it was time to re-evaluate my own lifestyle to make sure that I am doing my part. The main obstacle I face due to my work is that I spend alot of time sitting.
Gillick noticed a paragraph in Brody’s article that struck me:
Without regular exercise, she opines, “you can expect to experience a loss of muscle strength and endurance, coordination and balance, flexibility and mobility, bone strength and cardiovascular and respiratory function.” Translated into geriatric lingo, what she is saying is that to preserve function, the ability to walk, to do errands, even to dress and bathe without help, regular exercise is important.
Of course just like saving money, Dr. Gillick states that much of this work needs to be started when we are young. Of course, when we were young we couldn’t imagine mobility issues but my kids can. They prioritize exercise and sleep in ways that didn’t occur to me. I took false pride in how effective I could be without optimal sleep. No more, by the way. I know the toll it takes.
So like all of you, these milestone Birthdays remind us to take the time to question if we need to make some changes. One important point in Gillick’s blog post, which I concur with because I see it all the time is this:
The idea of successful aging has been the subject of both intense criticism and passionate enthusiasm. One problem is that we all want to lead a “good life,” but we may have very different ideas of what that looks like. Sometimes, what we think we need for a good life turns out not to be what we need at all: people who have a life-altering medical condition, whether Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may wish they hadn’t developed that disorder but find that they are nonetheless able to lead rich, enjoyable lives.
I follow up with the words of Dr. Art Frank from the University of Calgary:
The ill and impaired may, in the sense of fulfilling life, be far more free than healthy people. The healthy require health as an affirmation that their will is still effective and they must continually prove this effectiveness. The ill accept their vulnerability as an affirmation that the world is perfect without any exercise of their will, and this acceptance is their freedom…we are free only when we no longer require health, however much we may prefer it.”
I so appreciate this statement of Dr. Frank. Yes, I will do my part to remain healthy and mobile. However, I will never believe for an instant that our lifestyle prevents or cures, in the way we can turn a light switch on and off. I have met far too many people who have done all the right things and still been struck down by an illness that is out of their control and absolutely not of their making.
However, when we have a reasonable lifestyle we do improve the quality of our everyday lives no matter our circumstances. And that is something worth doing.
The Good Life
So, we all get to make choices, when we are privileged to do so, and in the end I stick with what I see as the most important component of the “good life.” Our relationships. Here is our gold. No matter what happens, this is the secret to the well-lived life – taking care of our loved ones and allowing them to care for us. And expanding that caring in ever increasing circles. Sharing our sorrows and our joys.
PS Just the same, paying attention to the basics will always help us to do that.
Note 1:) Links for both articles I referenced. Jane Brody and Life In the End Zone
Note 2:) A wonderful version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind by a French musician, Valentin Vander and 77 musician and singers around the world. A gift for everyone impacted by Covid.
Note 3:) May you get to spend lots of time outdoors and immerse yourself in sunshine, bird song, blossoms and many shades of green. And please accept my thanks for dropping by once again. I appreciate you! Warmest wishes, Trudy