Making The Good Life

It's not what you have, but how you live.

Archive for the category “Aging”

Au Naturel

My role model!

My role model!

I seem to be in the process of letting my hair return to its natural state. It wasn’t an intentional thing, and it isn’t without misgivings that I go down this path.

My hair is a dark blonde color – I found the photographs from 17 years ago to prove it. When I was a child it was lighter because of all the time I spent outdoors. Somewhere in the last 17 years I began to color my hair. First a few highlights, then a little more, then one day I was a redhead! Four years later I got the red out and began to be a “real” blonde. Every six to eight weeks, touching up the roots so that the increasingly dark roots and gray wouldn’t show. Over the years, damage happened and possibly a sensitivity to the chemicals. My hair fell out every time I colored – enough that it started to worry me. Women my age have enough trouble keeping their hair without bad reactions to hair dye.

I’ve experimented with less chemical-intensive concoctions but none are really satisfactory. So I have stopped. I haven’t put anything on my hair since late last year. I had it cut to my shoulders from halfway down my back a couple of weeks ago to get rid of the lightest, most damaged lengths.

I think I like it. Not so much the hair color, or the gray (I admit that I really liked that shade of light blonde!) but the process of beginning to look more like my real self. Stepping off the treadmill of faking it and onto the path of acknowledging and accepting who I really am today. Not giving up but hopefully walking a path to a healthier self-image and a more balanced approach to the rest of my life.

I’ll keep you posted.

Back to the Beginning, Again

Hmm. Let’s see if I can actually get this thing off the ground now. Maybe show up once a week at least, maybe more. How about I start with something easy, like movement?

I don’t move enough. I used to, and it’s not for lack of desire, but because my hip hurts. All. The. Time. It’s been hurting for over a year. I’ve been to an orthopedist, physical therapy, massage therapy, I’ve tried stretching and some strengthening, but it still hurts. Sitting hurts, walking hurts, standing and even just running errands hurts. I can’t walk a mile without limping. The docs tell me I have bursitis, but I think we’re all barking up the wrong tree so on Thursday I plan to have some imaging done. I mean really, bursitis just means that my hip bursa is inflamed – but why?? That’s what I want to know. I want to work on the root cause, not just the symptom. (I think it’s tendinitis, from the reading I’ve done.) If I ever get it healed and working properly again, I want to be like this man.

Stephen Jepson

Stephen Jepson, in his playground

Mr. Jepson is amazing. Not that what he does is out of reach for the rest of us (it isn’t), but because he’s living proof that movement keeps you moving. He is certainly serving as an inspiration for me once I can get moving again. Until then, I can stand on wobbly things, play with balls, pick up things with my feet and work on my hand-eye coordination. If you go to his website, Never Leave the Playground, you can learn more about him, and watch videos of him explaining his philosophy of playing for better health and quality of life.

From his website: “Every cell in the body is affected by movement. The brain improves as we use our muscles, which, in turn, grow with use.Scientific studies show that physical movement is the single most important thing to do to be physically healthier and smarter, regardless of age. Movement training can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Neural pathways open and increase throughout our lives as we learn new activities.”

I’m worried about this – things won’t get easier as I get older. I’m too young to have a major joint that isn’t functioning, and which IS contributing to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I want to get started trying to preserve and improve on what I’ve still got. Here’s to planning my backyard playground!

Back to the Beginning

When I started this blog, I intended to write about aging gracefully, healthfully and with acceptance. By acceptance I mean not giving up to the inevitability of poor health and infirmity that we so often see in our elder population, but acceptance of the unchangeable fact that I am aging. I have probably been alive for more years than I have left; I have passed my halfway point. This blog is about how I want to live what I have left.

I got derailed right away by my dad’s death. I haven’t felt like writing and indeed didn’t feel that I had anything to say. What can you say after watching an incurable disease steal what should have been a healthy and productive period in someone’s life? He had no heart disease, no diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. He should have been with us for a long time.

But with a little bit of time and distance I’ve been able to look at things differently. He gave me a great genetic inheritance (in addition to all of the other lovely intangible things about being his daughter). What can I do to make the most of it?

So, I am going forward. Some of the resources I’ve been looking at are:

YOU: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, Michael F. Roizen MD and Mehmet C. Oz, MD.

While I totally feel a little bit like Dr. Oz has become far too commercial and unreliable recently, I do really like the content of this book. It makes sense, and is presented in his typical humorous style. Dr. Roizen is the co-creator of the RealAge concept and author of the best-selling book of the same name.

The RealAge Makeover: Take Years off Your Looks and Add Them to Your Life, Michael F. Roizen MD.

Dr. Andrew Weil on aging gracefully. I watched a video, available on Netflix, called Dr. Andrew Weil: Healthy Aging. It had a profound impact on how I’ve been thinking about aging.

There are more, and I’ll share them later. Some are more fun, light hearted, and vain, others are serious and educational.

What Dr. Weil, Drs. Oz and Roizen and I have in common is the belief in (maybe hope for, in my case) the ability to age well and remain healthy and active well into the senior years, with decline and infirmity happening only very near the end of life. They call it “compression of morbidity”. That just means that you live your senior years in reasonably good health, with a sharp dropoff at the end rather than the constant decline and years of poor health that so often happens.

What does that mean for you and me? It means you can live in your home if you want to, not in an assisted living facility. That you can continue to participate in life and the lives of those you love. That you can work, if you want to, or volunteer if you want to, go to grandchildren’s graduations and weddings, travel, garden, have lunch with friends…really anything you want to do.

How do we get there? From what I can learn, it seems simple and straightforward (on paper):

  • Keep your weight down, in the healthy BMI range
  • Eat a good diet (more later)
  • Stay active, and I don’t mean just taking the stairs
  • Control your stress
  • Maintain some kind of social life
  • Control inflammation (LOTS more on this later)

We all know that it’s harder in actual practice than it looks on paper, of course! And I’m only 49 – why worry about 70 or 80 now? You already know the answer to that. The sooner you start, the better the result. I’ve already got a head start on weight and diet – I’m 126 pounds and I’ve had an interest in healthy eating for a long time. My views have evolved some over time and will probably continue to do so.

I’m concentrating on more physical activity, fine tuning my diet, stress management (really needed right now) and my finances in preparation for retirement. I may never fully retire, but I’d like to choose whether and how I work, and not be forced to greet shoppers at WalMart.

I’ll talk more about each in the coming weeks. Until then, how do you feel about aging? Are you ready for a healthy old age? If not, are you willing to change?

Missing

Well, I’ve been missing from this blog for quite some time now. Not exactly what I had planned, but what it is, anyway. It seems that balance is one of the hardest things to find and yet one of the most important aspects of having what I consider a “good life”.

When I started writing this entry, I wrote about things to come – my son’s high school musical, my dad’s illness, the time I spend with both of them. Before I could finish writing and post my entry, dad was admitted to the hospital. Ten days later, he passed away. I wrote:

My dad is ill, and has been for some time, but things are looking pretty bad right now. I spend as much time with him as I can but always feel that it’s not enough. Is there ever enough time at the end of someone’s life? Because that’s what this is, barring some new drug or other. Even that would be a temporary reprieve, not a cure.

We didn’t get a new drug, or a reprieve of any kind. We got ten days to say goodbye. There is never enough time. I was close to my dad. He was a wise man with varied interests and a lot of love for his family. He could always zero right in on the heart of any topic that we talked about. He was a talented photographer, loved the stars, flower gardening, good food, time spent together and babies. I will miss him more than I can say.

I’m trying to find my equilibrium; to function normally again. On Monday my sister called to tell me that my dad’s sister passed away. She was a wonderful woman and I loved her dearly. She will be missed as much as I miss my dad. Although she lived in a different state, she still managed to be a significant presence in my life. She and her family visited the family farm, where we lived along with my grandparents, as often as they could. I spent time with them at their home as well. She was a calming presence, a kind and intelligent woman and was incredibly beloved by her husband of over 50 60 years. Their love for each other was inspiring.

There are days lately when I don’t want to get out of bed, because I know I won’t stop moving until I fall back into it, later than I should. Those hours will be laced with memories of two special people, sorrow at their passing and a feeling that the world is just a bit less special than it used to be.

Conflicted

A lot of people are, you know. Conflicted. About lots of things but in particular I’m talking about the big 5-0 lurking around the corner. You see, part of me wants to walk right up to 50 and stick out my tongue, say “I’m not afraid of you!” or something like that, and sail gracefully and serenely into my 50s with the absolute conviction that these will be the best years of my life. But the other part is a little bit…uncertain.

It’s a pretty big milestone in most peoples’ lives. As I approach 50, I still have teenagers at home – one full-time and one part-time, since he’s in college. I’m helping my father who is dealing with serious illness. My mom has had one ailment after another, from breast cancer to a bad hip to cataract surgery, weight problems, high blood pressure… (They’re divorced. She’s on her third husband.)

I have a fear of declining physically. When my mom was in her early 60s – not that much older than I am – she really couldn’t get off the floor or out of a low chair without help or something to pull herself up with. She wasn’t able to really enjoy playing with her grandchildren when they were small because of it. I may not have grandchildren, well…ever, but if I do it won’t be for a long time. I want to be able to enjoy them the way I did my own kids!

"Mature" runners

These are the things that inspire me to try to take the best possible care of my body. Eat well, be fit, get all of my screenings (I’m a little bit behind on those) and keep my stress levels down. Not sure how much that helps really, but it makes daily life more pleasant, and that’s really all we have anyway. I realize that I can’t stop time,

but I feel like maybe I can slow down what lately seems

to be inevitable decline. While much of that has recently been attributed to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, attitude and perception play a part as well. This article in theNew York Times covers a lot of ground on the impact of both activity and attitude on aging.

Then there’s vanity. Yep, I am going to admit to that part too. I won’t pretend that it’s all about great health and serene acceptance. I’ve tried to downplay the part that vanity plays in all of this but recently decided that rather than feel guilty about it, I’m going to embrace it. It is, after all, a motivator! I want to keep my figure. I want to look nice, wear my hair long, and look at least a little bit like I feel inside for as long as I can.

So, health, fitness, beauty (or at least an effort at it) and a positive attitude. It’s not much – I can handle that! Come to think of it, I’d better wind this up – it’s time to go to the gym. I’m working out with my 15 year old tonight!

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