For many years we have been concerned about the effects of aging on our health and the potential for declining health to put limitations on our lifestyle. While I know that the path of life will eventually slow me down and require reduced activity and other limitations, I am determined to do everything I can to push those changes as far into the future as I can. We tend to listen carefully to news reports and I have done some reading in areas that can impact the progression of our health into the future. It is clear that individual studies and reports don’t, by themselves, carry much weight but over my years of watching and reading there have been two areas that keep coming up and that are consistently associated with better health and better aging. They are regular exercise and healthy eating. The corresponding threats to long a long and vigorous life are associated especially with heart health and obesity. In turn obesity is related to diabetes and its many negative effects on health. This week there was a report that it is connected to the probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
My response to this is to pay attention to the food I eat – how much I eat and what I eat. I eat less red meat, try to get more seafood in my diet and avoid highly processed foods. One of the interesting discoveries I have made in this process it that it is possible to change my tastes. I now prefer food with less salt and sugar and like healthier foods that I once did not care for.
The other area I work on is regular exercise. As I was growing up I spent many hours on a bicycle and I have continued to enjoy biking all my life. Through the spring, as soon as the temperature gets above 45 degrees and into the fall until the snow threatens, I try to ride three times a week. I very much enjoy the exercise and being outside. Sometimes I ride further than I planned just because I don’t want to go back inside. An added benefit for me that it is a great time to think about many things and often to pray. In the winter I ride my bike on a “trainer” inside, but it is much less motivating than being outside. I also go to a local mall to walk inside in inclement weather. I like walking with Rita, but my natural pace is faster than hers, so I also walk alone for a better workout.
I like to give my muscles a workout so I lift weights 2-3 times a week. We bought a weight machine for the basement because we knew that we would lift less often if we had to go to a gym. This has helped me to stay better fit and to control my weight.
So far this regimen of eating well and exercising has worked well for me. It is easier to maintain a schedule since I am retired, but we have busy weeks watching grandkids and other activities that sometimes keep me from maintaining the level activity I would like. It takes some discipline, but I like the results and I have been healthy.
Being healthy makes it easier for us to travel and do the things we like to do together. I intend to keep this schedule going as long as I can and pray that I will be able to accept limitations when age and circumstance inevitably force me to change it.
Sometimes I think being healthy and fit is in the genes. As child I was quite healthy. Growing up on a farm we ate healthy foods which my parents grew and prepared. We spent a lot of time playing outside during all seasons of the year. Walking was something we did without thinking about it. For the most part staying fit and trim was a non-issue. My brothers used to tease me about how thin I was. Through most of my early adult life being fit and healthy wasn’t a major concern. I pushed a stroller through the neighborhood to get out of the house and get exercise. I tried to prepare healthy foods for us. In the early years of our marriage we weren’t financially able to eat out much and much of what we did for vacations and outings with our children involved outside activities. It wasn’t until after I was forty and no longer had small children around that I needed to look at how to include exercise and healthier eating habits in my life.
Since my father died young of a heart condition, I have always been concerned about heart health to some degree. As I resumed a career I put on a few pounds. Somewhere 10+ years ago I participated in a summer workshop for Catholic teachers. One of the sessions I attended was the spiritual health of a religion teacher. I concluded that I was doing a reasonable job of tending to my spiritual life but in the process of trying to be wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend or teacher I had not tending to my physical health very well. When I came home from that conference I told Bob I was going to begin a walking routine. He eagerly said he would join me. It was a wonderful time for us to reconnect at the end of each day. At about the same time I was diagnosed with some minor heart issues and thus the need for getting exercise and eating healthy foods was important. Since then I have managed to walk about 2 miles four or five days a week with various partners and alone with greater success some seasons and years than others.
One of the frustrating things for me is that while most people I know who exercise regularly speak about endorphins, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have none and frequently joke about it. Exercise is not something I genuinely look forward to doing but what has brought the enjoyment to my life is the times and conversations I’ve have had with walking partners, or with God, those I have met on my walks and the number of people who have stopped me to say that I’m their hero or they want to be like me when they are my age. So while I don’t get a chemical high from endorphins, a “high” often results from the enjoyment when Bob sometimes joins me, when others have asked if they can walk with me or those I have met on my exercise journey. It has also been a fantastic high when we have walked for miles in the cities or on the seashores we visited. I want to continue to do that for as long as I can.
I have to admit that while I thought retirement would make it easier it has actually made staying fit more difficult. Teaching took a lot of spiritual, physical and emotional energy. Through the years I shared a classroom with other teachers and as a result I walked between my classroom and our department office many times a day. Being retired I find I spend more time relaxing, reading, writing, sitting at my computer and watching my favorite TV program—all the things I looked forward to with retirement only to find that it is the first time in my life that I’ve had to worry about gaining weight. Sometimes I think I should get a job again.
I do know though that one of the major goals I have had the past 45 years is to grow old with the one I love. I want us to be able to do all the things in retirement that we didn’t have time to do when we were working and raising children. I’m determined to travel and carry my own luggage even though Bob is a wonderful gentleman and walk through the cities and countryside of places we visit. I want to help children and grandchild with household jobs, to sit on the floor and play and read with grandchildren and to continue the service activities that we do. I know that means that staying healthy through diet and exercise is a necessity. It is not always easy but the results are worth the effort.
We hope you find time to stay fit in all areas of your personal lives and in your life with the person you love. We hope you find it as beneficial as we have.
Please leave a comment below.