I used to think I wanted to live forever. And then I began to see what it takes and where the very elderly often find themselves (institutionalized.) From what I’ve read, the best way to extend your life span is to eat very, very few calories. That idea, however, originated during the Renaissance and we can assume it grew out of a way to look at the good side of famine. The study I cite above, from 2007, is one of the only ones to recommend this process, and Wikipedia has a section about calorie restriction called “Confounders,” which I assume means there are plenty of studies that DON’T think calorie restriction helps. Anyway, eating less is out of the question for me. I just won’t.
Now I believe what I’d like to do is simply keep my quality of life as high as I can while I am here. So here’s what I do to make that happen:
1)Keep a puppy in my life so I am sure to walk 10,000 steps a day. Yes, it doesn’t have to be as large a puppy as B2, but he’s the one who presented himself to me.2) Have your joints replaced when necessary so you can continue to move around relatively painlessly. I had a hip replacement ten years ago.
3)Practice yoga so you can maintain enough flexibility to get up off the floor if you do happen to fall. Also so you can tie your walking shoes. I practice about five days a week.
4) See a cardiologist once a year to make sure you don’t have cardiovascular problems that go undetected.
5) Have all those shots they recommend for the “elderly”: flu, shingles, pneumonia.
6)Have your cataracts removed so you can read and continue to drive.
7)Learn to moderate your intake of alcohol. A glass of wine with dinner.
8)See a podiatrist every once in a while to keep your feet in good shape, and in between visits, have regular pedicures so your feet don’t hurt while you’re doing those 10,000 steps.
9) Go to the dentist, and make sure you have enough teeth to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
10) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables — emphasis on the vegetables. I became totally plant-based about five years ago.
11) Control your blood pressure and blood sugar so you don’t have a stroke or get diabetes.
12) Be present to your friends. What you do for a living not only doesn’t matter, but isn’t even discussed in most other countries. Who you love and who loves YOU matters.
There are others, like travel as much as you can, keep up with technology and innovation, and live life with a spirit of giving, but they are the overlays rather than the basics. And I forgot to mention sleeping 8 hours a night, which is a basic, but would push this post to 13 steps, which might be unlucky.
Good luck getting all of this done. It’s pretty time consuming. If you are over 40, it’s your new work:-)
Oh, my God,” he cried, the wet films hanging from the light board as I hastily got dressed. I thought he was going to tell me I had a breast cancer.
My husband, a radiologist, was giving me my annual mammogram when he made that exclamation. But no, it wasn’t cancer.
“You have the worst degenerative disk disease I’ve ever seen,” he’d said, looking past my breasts at my spine.I didn’t care about that. I didn’t have breast cancer, and I was pretty damned healthy. I ran 50 miles a week, had run 8 marathons, and in my early fifties I was only concerned about breast cancer.
“I have no pain,” I said. “You will,” he said ominously. “And when you do, don’t have an MRI of your back. Because if you do, they will try to recommend surgery. And back surgery never works.”
A couple of years later, he himself died of cancer.
I forgot about that mammogram until one day I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t straighten up. In terrible pain, I hauled myself out of bed on to the canal bank to meet my running buddies for our usual run. As I struggled, my back loosened up, and I felt better. But that wasn’t the end of it. Day after day I awoke frozen, ran to “warm up,” and re-froze when I sat down.
Finally, I started seeing orthopedic surgeons, starting with one of our friends, and I had the MRI. “You’ve got to have something done,” he said, or you will be in a wheelchair without bowel and bladder control.” That alone was enough to scare the piss out of me. I got a second opinion, and then I went to the famous Barrow Neurological Institute, then the best place in the city for back surgery.
The famous surgeon Volker Sonntag kept me waiting for thirty minutes as he did his rounds accompanied by his epigone. Uncomfortable while I waited (I couldn’t sit either), I picked up a pamphlet about back exercises and lay down on his office floor to do them. When he came in, he said the same thing everyone else did and, cowed, I scheduled surgery.
But the idea of surgery (I had never had any, and even my childbirths were natural) terrified me. My own mother had come out of an anaesthetic for routine surgery demented. And I was a mind worker — a widow with foster children to support and kids still in college. The surgery was the kind where they put a metal cage around your spine and screw everything in place. Sonntag said in six months I’d be good as new.
I came into the Biltmore gym in tears, and talked to my trainer, Chip Bohlman. He said to me, “why don’t you try yoga. It helps some people. And we have a class here at the hotel.” The only reason I went, because of course twenty years ago Type A people scorned things like yoga, was because the thought of surgery was so terrifying and the pain was so intense.
At the first class, Mary Bruce put us into a forward fold, and I couldn’t straighten up. But I kept going, and eventually the pain subsided. I postponed the surgery. Mary Bruce, my savior, left the Biltmore, and I followed her to a new yoga studio opening near me. I practiced at least three times a week, got certified as a teacher, and went back six months later for a followup to Sonntag. “Well, ” he said.” You’re one of the lucky ones for whom conservative treatment worked.”
Just like that. I remembered what my husband had said: “surgeons sell surgery.”
Fast forward twenty odd years. Volker Sonntag retired last year. I still haven’t had surgery. MRI still looks dreadful, and every time I see a doctor, he or she gasps. I still practice yoga.
The chart is not the patient.
You’re never irrelevant if you stay relevant. But that’s on you. Staying relevant is a game; you have to treat it that way and get good at it. It’s really not age-related or gender-related, or even race-related.
When I first entered the workplace, women were pretty marginalized, as older people are today. They did the trivial tasks, made the coffee, and ran errands, the younger equivalents of WalMart greeters. On the day John F. Kennedy died, I was on the top floor of 30 Rockefeller Center, which at that time held the offices of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, one of J. Walter Thompson’s biggest clients. I, with a BA from Cornell and an MA from Columbia, was delivering an envelope from JWT to a Singer exec. I was a messenger.
I was doing a necessary, but invisible task. In those days, women weren’t relevant in careers. When I learned Kennedy had been killed, I went home and quit my job, vowing never to be trivial or irrelevant again.I constantly dedicated myself to proving my individuality. I refused to be lumped into a group called “women,” and therefore marginalized. It was hard work.
I went back and got the ultimate in street cred, a Ph.D. No matter what they tell you, men are still intimidated by a woman with an advanced degree. With that degree I could never be “written off” as not smart enough. After all, I was a professor.
I worked all the way up to the days I delivered my two children, and went back to work two weeks later, proving I was serious about my career as a professor. I then carried my infants in backpacks to work. No one did that in the 70s. Most women quit work 3 months into their pregnancies and never came back.
I fought to allow women into the Men’s Grill at the Phoenix Country Club in the 1970s, proclaiming myself a “Womens’ Libber.”
I quit my professor job cold and started a PR company in 1980. I adopted all the technology I could, because it was all new and many men were unfamiliar with it. It was a huge competitive edge. What were the technologies? The telephone voice recorder, the Apple 2, and the cellular phone. The fax machine. In 1980 these things, no longer useful, hadn’t even made the hype cycle yet.
I always tried to know about something before other people did.
I walked in slightly late to meetings, as the men did, announcing that my time was as valuable as theirs. I, too, was busy. Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Phoenix Suns and chaired a community board I was on, once threatened to lock me out if I showed up late again. But he really couldn’t do that because he needed me to do the PR for the organization. I did not change my behavior.
I drove a Mercedes, like the men did, and procured one of the earliest cell phones by joining a syndicate of men who were buying them in bulk when they first came out. I ran 8 marathons, I became capable tournament tennis player, and I competed on every playing field.
I invested alongside men.
It was a game. I got really good at it. I never internalized it; I never allowed those guys to throw me to the sidelines. Nor do I allow that now. Just like you have to make your own happiness, you have to make your own relevance. Two words. Neil Young. Two more. Mick Jagger.
Every day I make myself a pot of steamed vegetables. While it used to be safe to assume if I put something on the stove I would remember to turn it off, I no longer test myself to see if that’s true. Even young people are distracted by devices, computers, and other tasks, and the easiest way to preserve your ability to multitask is to rely on the Instapot.
I fill it with water, add the veggies and spices, or oatmeal or whatever, and I can leave the house without worrying. In fact, I use the time to walk one of my dogs separately — a tradition I call “Dog of the Day,” which gives one of the three special attention. When I come back, everything is finished and turned off.
I’m a healthy, active 75-year-old woman, widowed for the past twenty years. Yesterday I was walking out of the cardiologist’s office after my routine checkup, and he said “why don’t you write a book about how you got this way” — meaning how I got to the numbers on my blood tests, the amount of exercise I do, and the ability to live a plant-based life over a long period of time.
I wasn’t sure I had the patience to write a book, but I damn well know how to blog, as I’ve been doing it since 1999, so here I go. Like aging, the blog will be a journey. Come with me, especially if you’re younger, because although you can make yourself healthier at any age, it’s best to start young.
This journey starts in my late twenties, when I moved from New York City, where I grew up and where it’s challenging to be an athlete, to Phoenix, where there was a climate of outdoorsy athleticism. In high school and college I had tried to escape physical education, so I knew nothing. And I smoked.
But when I moved to Phoenix, I fell in love with John Hardaway, a lifelong tennis player, and it became imperative that I quit smoking so we could move in together. Actually, I quit cold turkey, which no one is apparently able to do today, because I guess the nicotine percentage in the cigarettes has increased. Thank goodness I quit in 1969, because I probably wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t.
What made me quit was simple. I got out on the tennis court and even though I was 28, I was short of breath while running. John, who was twelve years older, was not. It was embarrassing. And it was scary. And just at that time the Surgeon General’s first report was released linking smoking to heart attacks and cancer.
That was enough for me. I endured about two weeks of not being able to concentrate on anything, hold a telephone conversation, think or read. And then the withdrawal symptoms abated, and I was down to about a ten-year craving that I was able to deny by chewing pack after pack of sugarless gum. In fact, the sugarless gum itself became a habit, but after a time, I gave that up, too.
In fact, the biggest thing I’ve learned about aging is that if you want to stay alive, you have to keep giving things up that you thought you could get away with in the past:-)