Saturday, September 29, 2012

How to LIve Long and Prosper

Having reached my 60's and still being in good health, I want to keep it that way. My relatives tend to live very long and hopefully, I have inherited the right genes to nudge that along. However, from what I read and hear, even people with an excellent gene cocktail can enhance the vitality of their later years, and add to them, with a few simple steps.
Even more exciting is that almost anybody can improve their health and longevity just by attending to a few simple tasks. Some of these "tasks" are actually quite pleasurable and rewarding, and therein lies even more good news.
I'm going to skip the parts about nutrition and exercise per se. Those two areas are generating tons of literature, and often conflicting reports about the value of this nutritional item, that diet, or some particular exercise or exercise program. The bottom line here is that if you are not staying on top of everything going on, start taking a daily multivitamin, take regular walks or other physically demanding activity, get some rest, learn to relax, and see your doctor regularly.
Now, let's talk about the two other things that anybody can do to help their body and brain survive longer and in better health. Let's talk about activity and connectivity.
Yes, I know I mentioned "exercise" already. While exercise certainly IS activity and DOES fit into this discussion, I want to look at activity from a slightly different angle for the moment. When I use the word "activity" here, I really mean...well...activity. Having a wide range of activities in your life pushes a lot of physical and mental buttons that help keep the juices flowing. This can be anything from taking the grandkids to the zoo, to gardening (exercise...okay, taking the grandkids to the zoo is exercise), needlepoint, following sports, keeping up with the news, writing letters to the editor, working crossword puzzles, reading books and so on. More good news. Sex qualifies as a beneficial activity!
The point is that when we regularly produce interest and challenge for our bodies and minds, they respond by staying a little younger a little longer. While aging and its effects are ultimately inevitable, the pathway we travel and the experiences we have along the way are very much under our control most of the time.
Years ago, I was the business manager for a mental health facility in Florida. We had a geriatrics program. It was heart-breaking to see these people, many of whom seemed perfectly healthy for their age, just sit and stare, ask the same questions over and over, or retreat into some internal closet where they waited for death.
Dianne, the RN in charge of the geriatric program, told me that most of those people should not have wound up there. They had simply slid down the slippery slope that begins to become created when we start to lose interest in people and events around us. As friends their age began to pass away, as children moved off to start their lives elsewhere, as society found new entertainments and interests about which they knew little, they began to barricade off parts of their lives until they found themselves carted off to a geriatric program in the basement of a local church while they waited for their blank or boring days to end.
Dianne explained that often something as simple as a hobby or reconnecting with a loved one or finding new contacts and interests was all that was needed to produce almost miraculous changes in the person...or to prevent them becoming isolated and aged in the first place.
This brings up the second point.
By connectivity, I simply mean being a part of the community. It has been shown that married people, for example, tend to live longer and healthier lives than those living alone. Interestingly enough, the state of the marriage has less to do with it than the existence of the relationship itself. People with pets tend to live longer healthier lives than those without. As alluded to above, those without connections to other members of society may age more rapidly, both mentally and physically, than if they were so connected.
Another point of this, by the way, is that being a part of some "society", large or small, can be a make or break factor in this aging stuff. People who go to church and who are a part of that community, or people who take part time jobs or volunteer can find a position which helps define them and anchor them to the living, breathing community around them. So many people, my father included, die shortly after retirement having accepted the loss of their defining job or position as an end to a lively definition of self. Many researchers have speculated that no longer having a context and definition of who and what they are contributes to an earlier decline and death.
While there is no magic bullet as yet to prevent the effects and ultimate result of aging, by maintaining an interest in life, remaining an active participant, and interweaving your life with the lives of others may be a step towards a longer, healthier senior life and lifestyle. It's more fun, too!


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