As I become firmly ensconced in middle age, I have been thinking more and more about how one grows older well. I watched my mom and dad age and made notes of pitfalls to avoid and strategies to employ. Here are my top ten “notes to self.” I hope they will be helpful to you.
- Delete the phrase "I wish" from your vocabulary. Stop wishing that things could be as they used to be. They cannot. Accept the things that cannot be changed; change the things you can; move on.
- Stay engaged with technology. Subscribe to Wired magazine. Become a "gamer." Do not let the world pass you by. Nothing marks you as "old" (well, almost nothing) more than technological impotence.
- Exercise. This is critical. Start now. If you wait until you are old, you may not start. But having said that, it is never too late to start.
- Cardiovascular exercise is not enough. Do not rely on walking, running, swimming, etc. alone. Weight bearing exercise like weight lifting is increasingly important as we age. Increased muscle strength and improved mobility and range of motion will serve us well as we age. You might even avoid a broken hip when you fall if you have the upper body strength to catch yourself before you hit the ground.
- Stave off cognitive decline. Learn a new skill that stimulates the growth of new neuron-pathways. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn a foreign language. Try anything that stimulates your brain in ways it has not been stimulated before. Also, see number 3. Research shows that exercise is also beneficial to the brain and can help prevent or at least delay dementia.
- Focus on the people who are still in your life, not those who have passed on. My mother had lost every family member save me, her only child. It was natural to WISH (see number 1) those loved ones were still around, but that is not likely to happen. (On this mortal coil at least.)
- Create new friendships to support you as you age. Create "cross-generational" friendships if you can. Strengthen your existing friendships. Build and strengthen your social network. Try "reverse mentoring." Find a younger person you can mentor, and who can mentor you in the things you may not be up to speed on, like technology for example.
- Plan for the time when you may not be able to drive or live alone. This is so important. Resistance to change increases as one gets older. Plan for change and implement change before change is thrust upon you. Change is more palatable when it is your idea. If you live in the burbs, think about moving to the city where public transport will help you stay mobile when you can no longer drive. Think about moving to a continuing care community when you are young enough to enjoy it and every level of care is available to you.
- Work on your flexibility and balance. (I am talking about your physical body now, but the suggestion applies equally well to your emotional and mental life.) I watched a 70 something man in an aerobics class at the gym the other day. Kudos to him for doing it, but sadly, he could not lift his arms above shoulders height. Take a yoga class or a ballet class. Improving your balance will help you avoid falls and maintaining your flexibility will help you with the everyday activities of life (like taking an aerobics class when you are 70).
- Read Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” once a month. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderata (Remember Les Crane’s spoken-word recording of “Desiderata” in 1971?) Honestly, the poem is a roadmap for a successful life. On the subject of aging, Max Ehrmann says: “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” The cosmetic industry would be out of business, but we would all probably be better off.
Age Well, my friends
Mark Scruggs is a claims attorney with Lawyers Mutual specializing in litigation, workers compensation and family law matters. You can reach Mark at 800.662.8843 or at email@example.com.