No. I am NOT going to tell you to skydive. If I do, slap me with your laptop.
Dear Reader: Dietary information in this article is not to be perceived as advice. It is the writer's own. Please seek medical and nutritional advice for your unique circumstances.
Look, this is about aging well. I know there's plenty out there about this, but stay with me here. I've got five more days before I celebrate 70, and believe me there's a lot to celebrate.
First, let me set the stage. The other day I read an article by a 57 year-old man that really got my goat:
Being very close to that age right now I sent that article to several friends of mine, Saga supporters of my work, and got some wonderful responses. Before I share some of my favorite comments, let me set the stage.
Despite our desperate beliefs to the contrary, WE ARE GOING TO DIE. There is no magic pill that some billionaire can take which will prolong the lifespan. Period. Besides if it did exist it would cost so much that you and I couldn't afford it.
Second, look. You and I can grind away until we are nearly dead in our tracks, then look around and realize that life is out there, always has been, waiting for us. Some of us (me me me) take a VERY long time to get there. The trick is to do something about it before we are so far along that we can't any more. So kindly hang with me here.
My Saga supporter friend Jim Stutsman, who is 75 and right at what Mr. Emanuel (above) feels should be the cutoff date, had a few spicy things to say about bowing out right now:
I’m 75 and I’m Not Ready to Go
A response to Why I Hope to Die at 75 by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, as published in The Atlantic
The author of the original piece is 57. I’ve been 57, and though my health at that age was sub-optimal, I was not inclined to set my own expiration date. In my early 60s, my parents moved to our city so that I could be of assistance. My mother was already suffering from Alzheimer’s and my father was fighting acceptance of that fact. Many hours were spent ferrying them from doctor to doctor until the final edict came. She needed to go into an assisted living facility. My sister found an excellent place near her home a few states away, and they were moved in. After observing first hand the toll that dementia took on everyone except Mom, I resolved that if I were diagnosed with it, I would terminate myself to save the family I love from that burden. In that respect I can identify with Mr. Emanuel’s opinion.
The basis for his opinion is the assumption that by the age of 75 your health will have declined to the point that you are besieged with drugs, doctors, and depression. This is the case for many of our friends and neighbors, some of whom have not yet reached 70. People over 65 are usually portrayed in TV and movies as irascible cantankerous grumps pushing a walker. Go into any supermarket or big box store and you’ll see folks riding a powered cart rather than pushing a basket. Some may be under 60. It is accepted as fact that age leads to infirmity right up until death.
Upon retiring, my wife and I decided to do something about the “middle age spread” that we both were carrying. Over a couple of years we tried various diets, until we started eating the Primal diet popularized by Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple fame. Shortly after that we segued into the Keto diet. We also started walking daily, eventually settling into a routine of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) every day. It takes about 55 minutes. Weight loss was immediate and lasting. After 5 full years of this we both have high levels of energy, and amazing health. In fact we are healthier now that we have ever been.
Speaking for myself, the effect on my brain has been dramatic. The fog that sometimes seemed to cloud my thinking has disappeared. In college I got involved with computers and spent a large part of my career writing software, temporarily suspended for 20+ years of operating a retail store with my wife. I have resumed writing code, and finding it better than any I have ever done. Learning new techniques is easier, and my memory seems to be getting better. I find myself remembering things that I had long forgotten, as if they were locked in ice that is slowly thawing.
In his article Mr. Emanuel refers to a colleague of 90 as an “old thinker”. The premise is that some people through their genes are able to function far longer than most. I submit that this is not an anomaly, but can be achieved by anyone. The human body is remarkably adaptable. Treat it well with proper nutrition and exercise, and it can overcome years of abuse. Make no mistake, both nutrition and exercise are important to achieve this. Most doctors will tell their type 2 diabetic patients that it is a permanent condition that cannot be reversed. However many patients are reversing type 2 diabetes by eating ancestrally, avoiding the Standard American Diet (truly SAD).
I think one of the most important aspects of my health is that I have taken responsibility for it myself. Yes, I have a Medicare Advantage plan, which is an HMO that costs me nothing. Twice a year I need to see my Primary physician for an assessment. I walk into the clinic and look around. Most of the staff is half my age, but most are overweight or obese. If I have to wait a bit, I may see the well-dressed, young, very attractive man or woman come in carrying a case full of sample drugs. If the doctor they are seeing is male, it will be a woman, and vice versa. My doctor’s performance is tied to how many patients she sees, and how many prescriptions get written. I’m what she refers to as “one of the healthy ones”. And she freely admits that I know more about nutrition than she does. Most doctors get less than 20 hours of nutrition in their entire medical training. I am constantly reading experts, and adjusting my diet as I learn new things. The payoff is big.
I have every reason to believe I will be as fit mentally at 90 as I am now. I plan to do all I can to last as long as possible, without the need for a litany of prescriptions. Doctors have their oath from Hippocrates: “Above all else you must do no harm.” I have my own oath from the same Greek: “Let food be your medicine and let your medicine be food.” (author bolded)
I have also been 57. That was the year before I wrote my first triple prize-winning book. Then I wrote another the year after that. By the time I had turned sixty I was already well into adventure travel. I climbed Kilimanjaro and have been doing adventure sports all over the world since.
Jim, his wife and I both committed fully to health. We were all obese at some point and now we aren't. So a huge part of this is how you and I handle our brain and body health. That way when we slide into our much later years, we're doing it like a champion surfer coming into the sand, where we turn around and head right back out for what Arthur Brooks calls the "Second Wave" in his book Strength to Strength.
The older we get, the more essential it is that we ignore the societal messaging and horrifically ageist tropes we see. They are mind-bendingly difficult to exorcise.
Don't wear them- wear your own version of your best self.
You figured it out by now.
First, take care of your brain and body.
Second, pick something that scares you and do it anyway.
Third, start small, build confidence, and build on each step.
Extra gift? Write about it. Why? Because years later, if you go back and read what you wrote, you will chortle at your fears back then. You'll be a very different person. In fact, I just did that today. I read a journal entry of mine at the age of 46, dated this date in January 1999. I talked about things I'ma gonna do.
Took me another twelve years, but step by step I got there. I got there much later in life, which is the whole point. There is no use-by date to trying new things.
So let me finish this version of the responses to Mr. Emanuel's article (there will be more so stay tuned), please see the article below. It's time for you to put a date and a dollar on that bucket list this year. For me, I'm looking at returning to Mongolia for a month this summer (after fully recovering from a few surgeries to get me back in fighting shape) and I am researching martial arts dojos.
Kindly, why not? I have no intention of trying to win a championship or show them what for at my age. I just want to learn martial arts, and in this case, NOT Tai Chi. I mean the real thing. Why not me? Why not you? So to that then:
The worst fear of all is to end up at the end of your life full of regrets for not facing your fear and doing it anyway, whether that's asking the girl out, taking a balloon ride or...well, you fill in your blank.
I don't care how old you are when you choose to finally face a fear and do it anyway. All I know is that it will transform your life.
What are you going to do this year?
With hearty thanks to NancyL for the inspiration to buy the book by Arthur Brooks.
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