About 10 years ago, I sat on the patient's stool at my doctor friend's one afternoon. I was in my early fifties then, as I rattled off my litany of woes— creaky joints, achy back, stiff neck. My friend, the Company Doctor, listened with extreme patience to my humdrum story while he timed my pulse and listened to my heart and lungs.
"Nothing wrong with you old sport" he declared, "you just need to cut down a bit on your gormandizing".
I was aghast. The man was suggesting I was stuffing myself like a pig. That wasn’t untrue though. I was then, in charge of the Catering Department and that meant food, royal food!
"I’ll put you on a course of Glucosamine for a couple of weeks" he continued, with a deadpan face. ‘That should fix your knee joints enough to get you on the treadmill. Meanwhile, start walking your way to work and home. That way your royal behind will move from fat to fit and your portly paunch will vaporise by itself.’
I thought he was kidding me. "You of all the people will know the pressures of our work" I pressed on, "and besides, I’m on the wrong side of 50!"
"I’m putting you on the GM Diet as well" he continued, nonchalant. "That should put you at par with your crew."
He wasn’t kidding. My mention of age didn't amuse him one bit. Then, he gave an ultra-long lecture on ageing. My friend was only two years younger than me but he was as sprightly and energetic as a man in his early thirties. I became aware of the youthful visage that belied his years. He was his own example of healthful vigour. How did he manage to do that? I learnt from him. Like me, he was a baby boomer, born in the early 1960s. He chose his own lifestyle. I let my lifestyle choose me.
‘All we have to do is throw out all old ideas about ageing. Gear up to live a life of long health, not long years.’
Old Means Long Health
Old doesn't have to mean being lonely and tired with no one to talk to but the family parrot. Old can mean staying vibrant, creative and enthused with energy every day of the remaining years. Old doesn’t mean accepting the diseases associated (erroneously) with ageing people – cardiovascular diseases, dementia, COPD, arthritis.
Old means making a conscious choice to stay dynamic, healthy and happy. In short, old means live life with the purpose it is meant for health. I rediscovered that day that ageing is not a disease that you can treat. You can’t halt age or reverse it. But you can choose to live a life of healthy ageing, starting from whatever milestone you have reached. The chance to adopt a happy, active and enthusiastic lifestyle is possible at all stages.
Achieving Long Health
The first and most vital steps to take to get to long health is by overhauling the popular notion about ageing and redefining that notion. The old notion that getting on in years means irreversible slow, gradual steps to the grave should be passé. Death is a fact, but ageing is not a slow, sad, and tortuous descent into it unless we choose that road. We can choose the lifestyle to live as we want.
My doctor friend himself rarely fell ill. He had long ago made a conscious choice to continue being active until the day his heart stopped beating. He would still enjoy his swim at age 80 and beyond if he lives. And enjoy his tennis too. One doesn’t have to wait till 80 to start tennis or gardening, or just about any permitting activity. Now is the right time.
The choice, however, is ours alone. Many seniors born between 1946 and 1964 – the so-called baby-boomers – are the lucky generation. According to a Nielsen survey they were actively engaged in their pursuit of health. They eat well and stay active beyond retirement. They love being independent in choosing healthy ageing. Many of them are still living life to the full, though all of them are well into their sixties. This is a positive message of hope for the younger generations.
The Lucky Millennials
The generation of this century’s millennials is even luckier. Nielson’s surveys found that they are making choices about their life goals. They are taking informed initiative about their own health and well-being in a more conscious, significant way. They are more willing as well to bear whatever it costs to achieve their healthy lifestyle of choice. The graceful and healthful ageing that started with the baby-boomers continues to be an even more serious mantra for the millennials.
What does all of this indicate? It shows a forward trend in the younger generation’s vision of life. Theirs is a positive choice to attain, and remain in, superb health and well being until they reach death’s door. This redefinition of healthy ageing brings with it wide and far-reaching ramifications. Young people deeply aspire to reach goals:
- To fulfil all personal needs to the fullest satisfaction
- To stay free from debilitating diseases and disability
- To have the independence to take care of their own health
- To be actively engaged in life with family, friends and society
- To enjoy life’s offers to the fullest – pursue dreams, eat, drink, travel and more
- To have the ability to cope with life’s challenges in later life