Photo by Yomex Owo / Unsplash

This is likely to get me hate mail. I don't care. We need to suck this up.

Dear Reader: This article IS NOT DIRECTED at those whose disability is a part of their life due to accident, childhood illness, those kinds of things. This article is directed at those of us of a Certain Age who really want to travel late in life but whose lifestyle choices have (or will), landed us in horrible shape, disabled by our eating and sedentary habits. Please also note that when I say functionally fit I am NOT saying thin. Fit is fit. Period.

Can't wait to stop work and start playing for the rest of your days?

Are all those fascinating, wonderful, remote locations calling your name?

While the way we work is changing, the truth for many if not most of us is that the chance to throw ourselves into the kind of ongoing vacay travel we dream about only happens at the end of a career.

I hope that changes soon, but not likely. Lots of folks edging towards 65 or 70 are eyeballing the open road, or their local airport, and beginning salivate over the beaches or the gorgeous hikes or all those wonderful things they were never able to do before. Kids, college, work, so many things get in the way.

Finally, the day comes. You and your partner, if you are connected, are free to fly.

Unless. This is the harsh reality. If you're not functionally fit, you're not going to be able to play the way you dream.

Every single day some 10,000 people turn 65.

That is a tidal wave of retirees, at least those who take retirement, hitting the ground daily aching to be free. Too many aren't, for heartbreaking reasons.

According to the National Council on Aging, way too many of those folks who are hitting the pavement aren't exactly running. In fact a great many of them are falling down and not getting back up.

To say the least, airlines are NOT ready for the disabled community, as evidenced by far too many horror stories about how they are treated. To that, and kindly this addresses all folks dependent upon wheelchairs:

Engracia Figueroa’s death shows why flying with a wheelchair is scary
51-year-old disability rights activist Engracia Figueroa died after United Airlines destroyed her wheelchair

So you see why I am so concerned about those who are still mobile, for now, but who are swiftly eating and sitting their way to a point where they may well have to deal with being in a wheelchair. I am all for prevention of such disability. It's not age, it's disrespecting our bodies.

If we do it long enough, we cripple ourselves.

To wit, from The National Council on Aging:

·  Older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Nearly 95% percent have at least one chronic condition, and nearly 80% of have two or more.3

·  The leading causes of death among older adults in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.4

·  Chronic diseases can limit a person’s ability to perform daily activities, cause them to lose their independence, and result in the need for institutional care, in-home caregivers, or other long-term services and supports.5 (author bolded)

While it's also true that some Baby Boomers are aging far better and living longer than their parents, our bad habits are catching up to us. They are also catching up to the Gen Xers, whose average age is 43-58.

In the blink of an eye, they will be at retirement age.  

Those leading causes of disability and death are all largely PREVENTABLE.

You and I have to train for retirement in precisely the same way we might train for a marathon. Because aging IS a marathon, and to enter a marathon in lousy shape is to be carted off on a stretcher.

Here's how that happens:

The prevalence of ultra-processed food combined with sedentary habits and too much dependence upon prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs have led far too many of us to watch our hopes for a late-in-life adventure come to an immediate stop. For too many of us ultra-processed food makes up 25- 60% of our diets. That is an early death sentence.

New evidence links ultra-processed foods with a range of health risks | BMJ
Policies that limit ultra-processed food intake are urgently needed, say researchers Two large European studies published by The BMJ today find positive associations between consumption of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) foods and risk of cardiovascular disease and death. The researchers say fu…

Worse, that diet, along with no exercise, skewers your late-in-life dreams. If you add our over-dependence upon pills and potions, that complicates the situation by causing all manner of symptoms and falls. Which are also preventable.

We don't fall because we're old. Moreso we fall because we addle and cripple ourselves with bad food, no exercise and bad drugs.

We cannot hike Macchu Picchu or the lovely coastal towns of Italy if we are terribly overweight with damaged knees or on a walker. Many of Asia's beautiful temples require hiking and walking, and there are no elevators in many if not most hotels. We will not trek to see the famed gorillas of Africa's great forests.

We will barely be able to roll off a cruise ship, which can accommodate us, but if we want to explore, we won't get far.

This article points out that we cannot and should never assume accessibility in other countries, even those with fine hotels:

Tourism Unprepared to Accommodate Growing Segment of Older Travelers
While the share of the global population over the age of 65 continues to grow, the tourism industry remains behind when it comes accommodating, supporting While the share of the global population over the age of 65 continues to grow, the industry remains behind when it comes accommodating, supportin…

The ADA doesn't exist beyond our shores.

The hard truth is that too many of us are not going to be able to travel the way we dreamed unless we do something drastically different.

Are you just too old? Is that the real reason?


This has very little to do with age per se.

The futures of millions- forget being able to travel the way we want- are already compromised or cut short entirely if we don't reverse course. For those terrified of Alzheimer's, know this:  it takes hold beginning in our thirties.

You read that right.

Alzheimer’s begins in your 30s
The disease may affect the elderly, but it actually develops from lifestyle choices made much earlier

Drinking, smoking, sedentary habits and junk food set us up for Alzheimer's early on. Just STOP.

These are choices, not genetics. Choices, not destiny.

5 Public Health Crises Facing America - Healthcare Management Degree Guide
Public Health Crises: Five Big Ones Facing America Right Now Obesity Heart Disease Addiction/Substance Abuse Dementia Food Safety Obesity, dementia, and heart disease – these are among some of the most concerning public health crises [...]

I want you to be able to travel. I want you to be able to walk the forests and trails and mountains and meadows that I have seen. Okay well, some of them really aren't for the faint of heart but hey, Switzerland has some of the prettiest trails in the world, and coffee shops along the way. You wanna miss that?

If the world awaits, and you have good reason to suspect that your ego is writing checks your body can't cash, then perhaps it's time to change course.

Even if you really are in trouble, in many cases you can begin to reverse the effects of lousy food and too much sitting, step by slow step.

My last surviving maternal aunt was easily 110 lbs overweight, and on a scad of diabetic medications. At 90, my aunt was indeed crippled  by obesity. Her granddaughter cleared all the cookies and candy from her retirement apartment, and got her on a healthy diet.

The weight came off, slowly, pound by pound. Eventually she dropped well over 100 lbs, and was able to return to her daily swim. She had more energy, her brain fog cleared, she got off all those medications and she was happier by far. She could walk again, and she had options.

Like so many she said she wished she had done it far sooner. Her last years were a lot more pleasant for everyone who loved and cared for her, to say nothing of the mobility she earned back.

Many if not most of us can not only reverse the effects of bad habits, but the switch to better diets and movement gives us a far better chance.

Well. Which diets? What kind of exercise? The ultimate question.  There are three responses to this.

FIRST: Do your own research.

Why? Because your body is different from everyone else's, and a quick review of the top articles on Google when I asked the question about reversing these conditions revealed all kinds of unfortunate information. While I agree with much of what is said, too often the articles push statins, or the too-easily-swayed American Heart Association which gives questionable food a "heart healthy" label when frankly, it isn't.

SECOND: Get a good nutritionist and then educate yourself first.

Why? Your medical doctor is not your nutritionist; they are fortunate if they have fifteen hours of training on the single most important aspect of our health. Do it yourself, as if your life depended on it.

By the way, it does.

THIRD: find an exercise program that works for you.

The ONLY exercise program which is going to work is the one you will do. That easy.

Then when you begin to take your life and body in hand, and have the patience to allow your body to heal itself (it probably will, if not completely then you will at least get much better), you will see your future options expand again.

It's not the rest of the world's job to accommodate American travelers who haven't bothered to care for themselves. As long as you and I still have a chance- and many if not most of us do - we can reverse the damage. Perhaps not all of it, but certainly enough so that those so-called "golden years" don't end up fool's gold.

It is a better world when countries acknowledge the need for access, which is slow but growing. Having been severely injured enough so that I've had to face that lack of mobility in many countries, I have direct experience of this very thing.

I have considerable empathy for those who have to navigate this full-time.

That said, you and I are far better off making sure that we do the work to never have to need such accommodation in the first place.

Please, let's take care of ourselves so that our bodies can take care of business when we want to travel the world.

Pathway to the Mediterranean
Photo by Ryan Spencer / Unsplash

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