The Healthy Aging Series Season 10 Episode 1

It’s All About the Engine, Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: S10 E1

If I Only Had A Brain

I could while away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consulting with the rain;
And my head I’d be a scratchin’
While my thoughts are busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain.

I’d unravel ev’ry riddle, 

for my individdle
In trouble or in pain
With the thoughts that you’ll be thinkin’
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.

Oh, I, could tell you why
The oceans near the shore
I could think of things I’d never
Thunk before,
And then I’d sit down and think some more.

I would not be just a muffin’,
My head all full of stuffin’,
My heart all full of pain;
And perhaps I’d deserve you and be
Even worthy even you
If I only had a brain.

Scarecrow – Wizard of Oz

Ya gotta have a brain. I think we all get this. It pretty much ensures that everything in your body gets done. When it doesn’t work, things don’t get done or things don’t get done well.

Mountain Biking

A number of years ago, a younger version of me took up mountain biking. I took a handlebar to the ribs and stopped mountain biking for the more relaxing sport of road cycling. During that mountain-biking phase, I had a discussion with my Personal Trainer about bicycles, about the best frames (aluminum vs carbon fiber), about shifters, about wheels (27.5 inches vs 29 inches), and really, about gear. Gear. That’s what sports enthusiasts talk about, gear. 

After 30 minutes of talking about gear, my Trainer looked at me and said, “Forget about all that stuff, all that gear. It’s not about the bike, or the wheels, or the shifters. It’s all about the engine!”

Of course, he was talking about the body. He was talking about your cardio fitness. He was talking about your core and leg strength. It’s all about the body!

As I prepared for this season, I thought about the importance of the brain. Isn’t IT the real engine that runs the body. With that in mind, I’ve entitled this season: It’s all About the Engine!

This season is about having a healthy engine. But first, I want to share what happens when the engine is injured. It’s not good.

Broken Engines

During my time as a therapist, I’ve worked with many individuals with brain injuries. To help you understand the tragic nature of these injuries, I’ll share a few stories. I’ve changed names, and anything that could identify them, and really these stories are a compilation of several fellow strugglers I have worked with.

Matthew

Matthew was 18 years old and had a very conflicted relationship with his mother. One afternoon, they were traveling on a busy street. They began to have a very heated argument and it became so heated that, as they came to a stop at an intersection, Matthew jumped out of the car.

Relieved to see the fight end, his mother left him to cool down, but she was unaware that, after pulling away, he was struck by a car while crossing the road and thrown 50 feet. It changed his life forever. He was in a coma for several months. Rehab for a year. Matthew was approved for a program for persons with traumatic brain injuries. It became apparent there were serious problems related to his brain injury. The hypersexuality, along with his impulsivity contributed to his frequent masturbating in public. He developed a compulsion to ask every barista, every staff member, and any woman that would smile at him, for their phone number. Despite all the clinical and behavioral interventions, these behaviors continued to make it difficult for Matthew to live in the community and eventually he was prescribed an anti-libidinal medication, which helped with his hypersexuality.

Luke

Luke was in his late 20s. He had been drinking and driving five years earlier and was the only occupant of his car when he slammed into an oak tree. He survived the accident due to the heroic efforts of the EMTs and ER staff. At the time of the accident, he was married with a newborn baby girl. Now, at 26, he was living with his parents. He was non-ambulatory, meaning he was wheelchair-bound. He could not talk. He had very limited use of his arms. He was on a special puréed diet that ensured he wouldn’t choke on his food. During his rehabilitation, his father had a heart attack, which I’m sure was partly due to the stress of the past five years.

Luke’s wife, though she didn’t divorce him, refused to see him, or allow his daughter to see him or visit him. I suspect the pain was unbearable for her.

John

John was a man in his 50s. His traumatic brain injury was a result of driving under the influence of drugs. 15 years later, he was living in a group home. He had serious memory issues. I worked with him for two years and had to remind him regularly who I was. John was unable to manage or maintain any personal relationships. The only relationships he had were with his professional staff and various therapists. He continued to see his elderly mother. He received a monthly check but had very little disposable income after paying rent and groceries. The team that supported him was constantly on the alert because John would buy money orders and send them to scammers that would ask for help paying their bills, help buying an airline ticket to get back into their home country or help making funeral arrangements for a lost child. He would send money to sweepstakes offers, believing that he had millions of dollars. This was his life.

I share these stories with you to make a point. If you experience a traumatic brain injury, it will dramatically change your life forever. It can change the way you think, the way you act, and it can change your personality. It will change you because everything you do, think, and feel is the product of your brain. 

Thankfully, most of us will not experience a Traumatic Brain Injury! But nevertheless, we are getting older, and so is our brain!

Our Aging Brain

How does aging affect our brains? All of us know someone who appears to have dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s. As we age,  most of us will have difficulty recalling names of actors or famous people. And we will have difficulty remembering where we put things, not to mention the changes in sleep patterns that result from an aging brain, If all of this isn’t a little alarming, what about the prevalence of anxiety and depression that many aging adults experience? Does this have anything to do with your aging brain? 

Here is the most important question I think to ask about the aging brain: 

Is there anything we can do that will ensure that our engine stays fine tuned as we age?

Of course, the answer is yes

I’m reading a lot about the aging brain. I’ll share five or six episodes that will put brain health in very simple terms. As an example, this is what I’ve learned: “What’s good for the heart, is good for the brain.“ 

The Swedish Art of Living Exuberantly, by Margaretta Magnuson

I’m going to reflect on the follow-up to “The Swedish Art of Death Cleaning” with “The Swedish Art of Living Life Exuberantly.”

This is Your Brain on __________________

We will have several episodes on things that affect your engine. Some of these include exercise, nutrition, stress, music, meditation, books, love, and sleep, just to name a few. We will look at studies that look at the affects  that playing video games can improve our Fluid Intelligence (I’ll share about Fluid and Crystalized Intelligence in a later episode). We will look at the use of supplements and alcohol and their effects on your engine. We will also look at the MIND Diet. 

Successful Agers

I’ll share memoirs by Betty White and Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise

Unfortunately, we also must look at some serious disorders of the brain. 

Dementia Memoirs

Last season, I shared several Obesity Memoirs. This season we will look at Dementia Memoirs and the impact that dementia has on people and their caregivers. I will share the lives of Glen Campbell, B. Smith, and Elaine Schreiber. I’ll have at least two episodes for Caregivers

Stroke Memoirs

I’ll share three memoirs from stroke survivors. These stories are inspirational. 

A Fairy Tale, Backpacking, and Desert Therapy

Throughout this upcoming season, I’ll share a couple Interlude’s. One is a fairytale that I wrote called “The Magic Necklace.” In the other interlude, we will look at my favorite hobby and how it has, in some sense, saved my life. I’m speaking about backpacking and hiking. I’ll share some of my experiences out on the trail, in the desert, and in the forest.

“On the Shortness of Life”

I’m going to reflect on the small book by Seneca, about getting the most out of the short life that we all have.

I think about those that I have served with brain injuries and how sudden the change came to their lives after their injury. 

The aging process is dramatically different in that it’s a slow and almost imperceptible process that happens. You must take care of your engine! 

I’m going to give you some very, very clear and simple ways of doing that! 

I hope you enjoy this season of my blog about healthy aging and the aging brain. 

It’s all About the Engine!

Protecting Your Brain

I would be an irresponsible clinician if I didn’t mention some practical ways of protecting your brain. I’m sharing a link for BIAK (Brain Injury Association of Kentucky). Donate if you can. They are a wonderful agency that provides free helmets for cycling!

Here are my practical recommendations:

  1. Wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle.
  2. Make sure your children wear helmets when they are riding bicycles or scooters. 
  3. Wear your seat belt.
  4. Do not drink and drive.

Here is the BIAK link:  https://biak.us/

Healthy Aging Series Season 10

Healthy Aging Series: Season 10 Teaser!

It’s All About The Engine

First, it was our sump pump, then a leaky showerhead. Then, we lost shingles on our roof due to a windstorm and had to have our whole roof replaced. And now we have some doors that won’t shut completely.

OK, you can tell me to stop my whining.

It’s still a wonderful house and home. We took a chance with a young builder, and he did a great job. Over the next 20- or 30-years things are going to break, stop working, or need replaced.

I have used the saying, “The older, the house, the more the maintenance ,”and I’ve applied it to our bodies. As you age things simply break down and quit working.

I’m in very good  to excellent health. I stay away from fast food and sugar. I watch my weight. I exercise 8 to 10 hours a week. And yet, my 68-year-old body is slowly breaking down. It started with my blood pressure, then hypothyroidism, then hyperuricemia, and now bursitis. None of it is serious. More a nusance. And the question isn’t “Is that it?” but, “What’s next?”

Not to be maudlin, but I guess eventually everything will fail.

But the one part of you that you want to last until the very, very, very end is your brain. OK, and your heart, too!

In the upcoming Season 10 of my blog, I write about the aging brain. I’ve titled this season, “It’s all about the engine.” I explained the title in episode one. I want this season to be positive and inspirational. I want to help you have a healthy brain. Why? Because everything you do, think, feel, depends on your brain. Everything.

I’m at the midway airport waiting for a flight to Colorado Springs, to visit my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters. It was recently Sophie‘s 16th birthday and I bought her a book entitled “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. ” She’s a climber and inside the book I wrote:

Eat. Read. Climb. Repeat.

All of that is possible because of a healthy brain. My son and I are headed to Utah in the morning to do a four-day backpacking trip through Canyonlands National Park. All of it: driving, lugging around 55 pounds, 18 to 20 miles, putting up our tents up, reading the directions for our freeze-dried meals, all of it, our conversations, our enjoyment of the beauty and fellowship, all of it depends on a brain.

I also have some tragic things to talk about as well. The big one is dementia, which, believe it or not, is mostly preventable. It is.

I will be sharing several memoirs, which I ‘ve called Dementia Memoirs. The last 10+ episodes are a variation of “This is your brain on_____.” (fill in the blank with things like exercise and diet and music).  If you want to age well, you will need to continue or start taking care of your brain.

It’s all about the engine! Stay tuned.

Healthy Aging Series: Season 9 Preview…and It’s My Birthday!

Healthy Aging Series: Season 9 Preview…and It’s My Birthday!

It’s my birthday! I turn 67 today. And I’ve got lots to talk about. I want to talk about myself, of course, and about my upcoming season in my Healthy Aging blog, Season Nine. First about me. 

This past weekend I did my annual hike to the top of Mount LeConte in the Smoky Mountains. I did 11.6 miles in five hours. That’s about 27 minute/ miles. I did 3000 feet of elevation with an average heart rate of 126 bpm. I took the next day off and recovered well. I feel good. I’m back in my weekly routine of 8 to 10 hours of activity per week. Walking 30+ miles. Resistance training 2 to 3 times weekly. 

I had lab work done this past week. My PSA was good. Check. Kidney functioning good. Checked. Cholesterol was all within the good range. Check. But… no not everything is good. I woke up in the middle of the night on July 4 with an excruciating pain in my big toe, and maybe you’re one of the few who wouldn’t have guessed it but yes, I have gout. My doctor said that my uric acid was in the high normal range, but I needed to go on a low purine diet. I’m writing a blog in titled, “My Big Toe Saved My Life,” because I am learning about uric acid and its effects on longevity. I’m going to be fine.

It’s good to take a snapshot of your life on your birthday. I’m pleased with where I’m at.

Season nine will be a mini season with five episodes related to Healthy Aging. There’s no question that a major part of healthy aging is weight management. Being overweight, or obese are contributing factors for many ailments that plague us as we age, including Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, strokes, sleep apnea, body, pain, and difficulty with physical functioning like walking. Weight management is crucial for a high quality of life as we age. I’ve written a miniseries in titled “how to have a breakup with food.”

In Episode 1 I’ll share my understanding of Set Weight Point. Your set wait point is the weight you always return to months after you’ve taken off weight. I’ll provide a different approach to set weight point that is determined more by your relationship with food and less by genetics. Thus, the reason why I am suggesting a “break up” with food.

Episode 2 explains why it’s very difficult to break up with food. As an example, one reason that it’s so hard to break up with food is because it’s everywhere and abundant. No more hunting and gathering. I’m sitting at McDonald’s on Bardstown Road as I write this blog. Not only is food, convenient, easily accessed, and cheap, you don’t even have to leave home to access a sausage biscuit with egg because Door Dash will bring it to you.

Episode 3 and 4, will share strategies to ensure that you break up and maintain your breakup with food for years to come. One strategy is thinking differently about food. I’ll share strategies from Judith Becks book, “The Beck Diet solution: Train your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person.”

Episode 5 will explain the Self-Binding process of weight management. I’ve taken this procedure from Dr. Anna Lembke’s book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.”

An example of self-binding would be limiting your eating window to, let’s say, eight hours. That would mean fasting for 16 hours. Typically, people skip the morning meal which we called breakfast. Breakfast is the meal that breaks our fast, so you’re not skipping breakfast, but delaying it until 11 AM or 12 noon.

That’s season 9. It’s a shorter season and one that I think will make a difference in your life and in my life as we age.

During my break between seasons, I started reading the classic, “The Road less Traveled,” by Scott Peck. The first line of the book is “Life is difficult.” He might as well have said “Aging is difficult.“ I wonder if maybe we’ve forgotten that. 

I’ll write a blog about this book in season 10 or 11. Life is difficult. Peck writes that most of our mental health issues come from our unwillingness to come to terms with that. 

Life is difficult. Aging is difficult.

Peck offer strategies for coping with that reality. I am offering some strategies that will help you as you come to terms with the fact that aging is difficult.

I hope you join me during this season. 

Start taking snapshots of your life. What do they look like?

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

How to Find Your Own Mr. Miyagi | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E10

This blog references “Triumphs of Experience”: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,”  Written by George E. Vaillan

“Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance, bad, better pack up, go home. Understood?” Mr. Miyagi

“First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Danielson, not mine.” Mr. Miyagi

“Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life must have a balance. Everything be better.” Mr. Miyagi

“Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance.” Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi represents the mature, aging man or woman. The quotes above, to Daniel, are from his many  years of experience, learning from good and bad decisions, learning from being out of balance, learning from the mistakes of trying to fly without, first, knowing how to stand, and from learning to follow leaders, who did not know how to dance. There was a maturity about Mr. Miyagi‘s words to Daniel-San.

Mr. Miyagi represents the image of a focused, giving, and wise, aging adult.
Do you know any Mr. Miyagi‘s? I can name a few. But, maybe a more important question is: How do you find a Mr. Miyagi? What does a real Mr. Miyagi look like?

The Harvard Grant Study

We’ve been looking at the Harvard Grant Study. George Vaillant, in his book, Triumph of Experience,” gives us a snapshot of maturing, aging men. This is my last blog on the Harvard Grant Study. The details of this study document the lives of 268 men, starting in 1937 and following them through to 2010. In the last blog of this season I want to focus on what it means to be a maturing, aging adult. I want to share two life task that indicate that an adult is maturing or getting wise.

What did Vaillant discover from examining the lives of 268 men as they aged? Vaillant writes that, “In a sense it was their ability to transcend decay and maintain human dignity, despite the ravages of mortality.“ What Vaillant discovered was that those men, who had completed certain life tasks, aged well.

Life Task One

The first task he calls generativity or what I would I call, “giving back.” Vaillant defines generativity as a capacity to foster and guide the next generation to independence. It means giving back or paying forward, for the guidance and mentoring that others gave to you.
I can name a few that gave back by giving to me. Bill K. Ken N. Clifford V. Allen N. And I can recall many, many others that I chose to keep unnamed. Men and women that shepherded me and shared their lives with me. They were my Mr. Miyagi.

Life Task Two

Valent list a second task which he calls Integrity, and I call “letting go.”
“How do we maintain hope,” he asks, “when the inevitability of death is staring us in the face?”

The answer is letting go.

In some sense, it means divesting yourself of the things that you have fought so hard to keep, like your home, your health, or your things.

Betty Neese was my Mr. Miyagi

In this sense, my mother was my “Mr. Miyagi.“ More than anyone else, she has helped me come to terms with the process of dying. She did not appear to have a shred of fear of dying. When I asked her what she thought about being 60, 70, or 80, she responded “I love the age I am right now. I would never want to be younger.“ What words of wisdom! She taught me to let go. She was my Mr. Miyagi.

Finding You Mr. Miyagi

How do you find your Mr. Miyagi? Maybe they are already in your circle of friends, family, or acquaintances.

First, look for someone who is a giver.
Has an older person invited you to coffee or to walk in the park? Is there an older person that inspires you to be a better person?

Second, look for someone that is letting go.

Look for someone who has started loosening their a hold on the reins of this world. Look for someone who values the inner world, and not just things. Find a Stoic.

Stoicism is a philosophy of life that teaches us to stop wanting more things, and start learning to value the things and people we already have.

I think, as we age, and as we mature, we begin divesting ourselves from things, and we begin looking for ways of giving back. We begin looking for ways of letting go of the things that have given us so much meaning in our lives, and investing in others.

Many of the men from the Harvard Grant Study accomplished these two tasks: giving back and letting go.

Maybe the unasked question is: Are you becoming a Mr. Miyagi for a “Daniel“ in your life? If not, begin learning balance. Begin learning how to stand, and then learning to fly.

And then, begin learning how to dance.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Live Life While You’re Alive, No One Will Survive | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E9

This blog features “It’s All About Me,” by Mel Brooks

My father hated the fall. “Everything is dying,” he would tell me. He wasn’t a pessimistic person. He didn’t complain a lot about getting older, at least not to me. He was proud of his nine children. He loved his 25+ grandchildren. But fall, I’m guessing, reminded him that, as Mel Brooks wrote in his recent autobiography, “No one will survive.”

I’m reminded of this often. News headlines. Car crashes and shootings. Family members facing terminal illnesses. The loss of a close friend or loved pet. You look at the mirror and you see your father’s or your mother’s face. The trend lines on your blood work slowly point downward. And you realize that you’re slowly dying. Sorry for the negativity.

OK, what do you do with that epiphany? Mel Brooks‘ advice is live life while you’re alive! I heard him give this quote while being interviewed for his new book, “It’s all About Me!“ Which he wrote, when he was 95 years old. I decided to read the book. Here are my takeaways from his book:

1. Mel Brooks followed his bliss. I borrowed this phrase from Joseph Campbell when he was interviewed by Bill Moyers and was asked what advice he would give to young people today and his answer was: follow your bliss. Mel Brooks found his happiness and success by following his bliss. His bliss was making movies. “Movies,“ he writes, “rescued my soul.“ I think that some people misunderstand what it means to follow your bliss. It’s not like a stroll in the park. It’s not the 10% rule, which says that you only need to “show up.”  Following your bliss means hard work, persistently paying the price, and never giving up. Look has something to do with it. Brooks writes that “you never know when and how a stroke of luck is going to come and cross your path.“ Following his bliss put Brooks into situations that made it seem like luck, but luck resulted from all the effort that it took to follow his bliss.

“I worked hard,“ he writes, “and I conquered my fear of the empty page.“ He never took no for an answer. He would never have found his bliss if he had never followed it. 

I followed my bliss, my passion, and I started working, in the helping profession 40 years ago. That was my dream as a young man. At the time I completed several internships. After graduating, I worked as a therapist for almost nothing, barely making $10 an hour. But I did it because I loved what I was doing. Forty years later, I love what I do I have found my bliss because I followed my bliss. Live while you’re alive.

2. Brooks learned one of life‘s most important lessons: he learned to stand on his own two feet. Credit his time in the army during World War II for helping him grow up. The military can do that. He did it to me. I spent a year in Texas, a year in Ohio, and two years in Korea. A long way from home. No hovering parents. OK, maybe a hovering drill sergeant. I tell the parents that I’m working with that soon, very soon, the school of hard knocks is going to kick in with their teenager. And then, that’s when real growth happens. The “learning to stand on our own two feet,“ comes, not necessarily books, or from time in a classroom. Most of our learning experiences come from outside the classroom, in the trenches, and because of the challenges that life presents to us. Brooks learned from every experience and everybody! From Neal Simon, he learned “that every second counts in comedy.” Even at 95 he continued to learn!

3. There would be no Mel Brooks without his friends. Specifically, he writes at if there had never been a Sid Caesar, there would never have been a Mel brooks.
He describes Carl Reiner as the best friend anyone could ever have. Brooks recalls the long walks he took with Woody Allen and the refreshing chatter that they had on those walks after work. His 40-year marriage with Anne Bancroft was a constant source of creativity and support. If you’re going to live while you’re alive, friendships matter, and if you let them, your friends will help craft you into someone that otherwise would not have been. We live in a culture of rugged individualism, where we are taught to be self-sufficient and need no one. But we need to remember the somewhat corny song by Barbra Streisand that says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,“ and the pronouncement that “No man is an island entirely of itself.”

I think living life while you’re alive, means seeking out new friendships and nurturing the friendships that you have.

I loved this book, and Mel Brooks has become my new hero. When asked “What is the secret to living a long life?” He responded, “Don’t die!” 

I love it.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Image of men standing in the woods

How to Channel Your Parents (When They’re Gone) | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E7

“Kevin!” I’ve seen the movie (Home Alone) a 100 times and I can conjure up the scene where Kevin’s parents realize that he’s not on the plane while it’s on its way to Paris. It’s a cute movie. Kevin is “Home Alone.” No parents, no family members, and no Buzz. And let’s not forget the two completely incompetent burglars. There is, of course, a cartoonish feel to it. Somewhat “roadrunneresques.” Lots of laughs.

Life isn’t so cute and funny when, during your life, you lose one or both of your aging parents. Then, you and your adult siblings are left alone without the anchors that your parents provided all those decades in the past.

Every family is different.

Some of you lost your parent or parents when you were we were young. Some lose a parent that was not the wished-for anchor that you needed or those parents that struggled with mental illness, addictions, and their own abandonment. Some of you had to be your own anchor and had to parent yourself. And some of you have no siblings.

My Family

I’m writing this blog primarily for people who have siblings and have lost their aging parents. I have eight siblings. Our ages range from 61 to 75. My father died in 15 years ago and my mother died in 2015. Both were anchors for us. And now we are “home alone“ without those anchors.

Step up and be the sibling that channels your parents

Are there any rules for older siblings when their parents are gone? Or maybe just simple suggestions to keep from drifting “out to sea” so to speak. I think so. Think of this as a way of channeling your parents. What would your parents want? How did they hold things together. That’s what I mean by channeling. Start with this:

First, be the brother or sister that reaches out and becomes a new and different anchor for the family.

We can reach out and pull the family together in a text thread, keeping everyone informed about what’s happening with each of the brothers and sisters. One of my siblings had a medical crisis this past year and we were able to stay informed and  we were excited when they made a full recovery. That brought us all together and we saw all the love and concern expressed in the text.

Some examples of Anchors

We can reach out and pull the family together in various ways. Start with a Google photos file that the siblings can share with each other. We have one called Neese Fam. This month seven of us got together and shared pictures. The two siblings that live out of state were able to view the pictures. Facebook can also be a way of sharing. Some of my siblings do not use Facebook and some people prefer to keep family issues and photos private. We can reach out and pull the family together by having lunch, making a phone call, or having a camp out at the local campground. I hear people complain that they never hear from family members. I often remind them that they have a phone and maybe they should consider making the phone call.

The second suggestion involves agreeing to leave politics and religion at home.

There are nine of us and we have a lot of different views of religion, and a lot of different views of politics. Our country is polarized, and families must be militant to keep that polarization out of their get togethers. Make it a rule: no politics and religion. There is plenty to talk about! At our last get together, we talked about health issues. When senior adults get together, those get togethers usually turns into an “organ recital.” You know what I mean: talking about body organs, like the prostate, the ears, the heart, and so on. We gossip when we get together. Gossip can be good when done right. It’s a way of sharing what you know about family members that others may not know. Of course, avoid being judgmental, but it can pull family members together.

The third suggestion is to learn to compromise and find a consensus.

I’m so proud of my family. Both of my parents wanted to be cremated. As my father’s next of kin, my mother had to sign the agreement to have him cremated. When my mother died, she had nine next of kin, and some of my siblings did not like the idea of having her cremated.  The document was passed around at the local restaurant where we met, and everyone signed it.

The fourth suggestion is to forgive and forget.

This means the sins of omission and commission. Nothing pulls members apart like hurt feelings. I was able to do the eulogy at my mother’s memorial service. If there was any person that was justified in holding a grudge and holding resentments, it was my mother. I’m not listing details but take my word for it. Here’s what I told the gathering at her memorial service.  “Our mother,” I preached, “didn’t let stupid shit rob her of her peace and serenity.” She didn’t let it push her family members and friends away. Most family members get upset, get their feelings, hurt, and become estranged because of stupid shit. It’s usually about religion or money, or sex and almost always forgivable. Everyone thinks, the offense against them is unforgivable, but put yourself in the offender shoes. If you want forgiveness from others, then forgive others of the stupid shit they do to you.

Channeling Your Parents

Most of us have parents that were strong and important influences in the lives of their children. They were anchors.
What I’ve been talking about is providing the same affect in our families that our parents provided for us when they were with us. These suggestions are in some ways channeling your parents because that is most likely what they did for the family when they were living.

Channeling a parent, be it your mother or father is what you do when you take on the role as a surrogate anchor, or leader, for your family. It doesn’t matter who does it. Anybody can channel their parents. You channel your parents by being the kind of person that would promote the things that they promoted when they were living. Nothing would make them prouder!

Post Script: I channeled my parents this past weekend. It was Easter Weekend. I orchestrated a one-night backpacking trip into the Hoosier forest with three of my brothers. It was a wonderful weekend.

We talked about our parents. We talked about our children. We told stories about growing up together.

We laughed as we struggled to cross a stream. We shared our freeze-dried meals (Coconut Curry Chicken.) We sat and stood around the warm campfire and gossiped!

No Politics. No religion. Just Love. Just what Mom and Dad would have wanted!

To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

The Real Mr. Miyagi: How to Die Badly! | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E6

He described himself as a unique drunk. He could work almost every day, and no one would know it.”

“I’m drunk almost every day.” Pat Morita.

Mr. Miyagi. I’m guessing most of you have heard his name. He taught Daniel LaRusso karate in the three karate kid movies. Such a great character, and Pat Morita did a wonderful job bringing that character to life.

I’ve written about Daniel and Johnny in the Karate Kid/Cobra Kai Series. Both of them are petty, resentful, jealous of each other, egocentric, and basically really immature. Mr. Miyagi, on the other hand is portrayed as the wise sage. He is in the “giving back“ stage of his life. His story is about the early rivalries and losses during World War II, and how he rises above them, and becomes a man of peace and tranquility. It seems like the Bonsai trees are the metaphor for his life.

That is Mr. Miyagi. The story of Pat Morita is a much sadder story. I became interested in his life and watched a very good documentary, “More than Miyagi: The Pat Morita story.” Marita had what he described as an abandoned childhood. He gave up his dream of attending college and medical school, to follow his parent’s dream of working in their Chinese restaurant. Later, he did stand-up comedy and had several TV roles, including a part in the series, Happy Days. And then he got his big break with Karate Kid.

What the general public did not see but what Marita confesses is that he was drunk almost every day throughout his adult life.

He described himself as a unique drunk because he could drink almost every day, and no one would know it. He died at 73 from kidney failure . The last decade of his life was filled with a steep decline in health. He was practically penniless due to his two failed marriages and his inability to show up for work commitments. I encourage you to watch the documentary.

I’ve been writing blogs on healthy aging, and refer back to the book, “Triumphs of Experience,” by George Vaillant. It’s a book about the Harvard Grant Study, which was a longitudinal study of 268 men that began when they were 20 years old and students at Harvard. The study followed them until they died. I’ve looked at the overall lessons from the study, and I’ve  shared the predictor for successful aging (having healthy adult relationships when you’re 47 years old) and now I want to look at what predicts longevity or living to 90.

What predicted that the men of the Harvard grant study live to 90 years old? I want to know what those predictors are! Are there things that I can do or not do that will increase my chances of living to 90 or 95 years old?

There’s no question that there are things completely out of our control that affect longevity.

Heredity and the predisposition to various illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease affect longevity. Ancestral longevity plays a role in your longevity, but not as much as you think.

Five things that we learned from the Harvard Grant Study about living a long life!

The factors that contribute to a decrease in longevity are more lifestyle related. Vaillant spotlighted five risk factors or as he lists them, Vascular Risk Factors. Here is the checklist. Check off the boxes that apply to you!

  1. Smoking.
  2. Alcohol abuse.
  3. Hypertension.
  4. Obesity.
  5. Type 2 diabetes.

“Men with no vascular risk factors,” Vaillant writes, “lived to an average age of 86. Men with three or more, live to an average age of only 68. This complex of factors subtracted 18 years from a man’s expected life.”

The Bad News

Did you check smoking?

Throughout my studies on aging, smoking is the king of bad behaviors. Thirteen Hundred people die each day in our country from cigarette related disorders. If you smoke, do everything you can to stop now. There are several strategies for stopping. Smoking will contribute to a shorter life span and also to a very difficult “Marginal Decade.” If you haven’t followed my past blogs, the Marginal Decade is your last decade and if you haven’t prepared for it, it could be a very difficult 10 year for you. Nothing ruins your life like COPD!!

Did you check Alcohol Abuse?

Although alcohol related deaths per day are significantly less,  it is still 260. I remember, many years ago, selling a car to an acquaintance that had an alcohol problem. I was such a tragedy. She died a year later from her alcohol abuse. It happens. Alcohol abuse shortens your life.

Did you check obesity?

Obesity has become a very serious health issue in our country. The U.S. obesity prevalence was 41.9% in 2017 through 2020. It’s difficult determining the number of annual deaths attributed to obesity because of other overlapping disorders like type 2 diabetes, but a conservative estimate was, 300,000. That’s about 820 deaths per day from complications related to obesity.

Did you check hypertension or Type 2 Diabetes?

Untreated hypertension and type 2 Diabetes contribute premature death that can be avoided, to some degree, by wise lifestyle choices.

Marginal Decade

In a previous blog I introduced you to the concept of marginal decade. The marginal decade is your last decade, and it has the potential and prospects of being the most difficult in your life.

You have a chance now to make decisions and make lifestyle changes that will improve your quality of life and increase your chances of living to 90. In the documentary on Pat Morita, alcohol abuse took at least 10 years away from his life. It’s interesting in the first karate kid he gets very intoxicated, which is in some ways a very tragic way of mirroring the life of Pat Morita, the real Mr. Miyagi.

To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

How to Escape the Rat Race | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E5

This blog will examine the work, “The Country Chronical,” by Gladys Tabor

I love sleeping in a tent, especially when it’s raining. I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences camping. Mostly I love it. I’ve slept through a blizzard in the Sierra mountains. Woke up to a foot of snow. I’ve slept through a “no see him“ infestation in Utah. I think mosquitoes are worse. And I’ve slept through a 14° night on the Knobstone trail in Indiana. I had to thaw my boots to put them on the next morning. Backpacking has always help me escape the rat race as you get older. Don’t you just crave peace and quiet?

Isn’t it nice to get away from people, and your computer, and traffic. That’s a big one for me. Getting away from your job, and people, and the news, and have I mentioned people? Backpacking is one way I get away from all that. Hiking is another. Sitting in my easy chair with a good book is yet another. I’m escaping now as I write this blog.

My male kitty, Hansel, is stretched out on the floor in front of our gas fireplace. I can hear him purring from several feet away. He looks up periodically and then jumps up on the arm of my chair and kisses my nose. I love his nose kisses! All of this calms my nervous system.

I think I learned how to escape from my mother.  A recent study that I read on aging suggests that as men age they are influenced more by their fathers and then by their mothers. Maybe. But I feel my mother’s legacy even now, as I slowly approach 70.

You might not believe what I’m about to tell you, but she introduced me to some books by an author, Gladys Tabor, when I was a teenager, and I read them, and I loved them! I asked for them before she died, and I cherish those early memories of reading them. I guess they helped me escape the rat race of adolescence, even just a little. Gladys Tabor left city life in 1935 and moved  into a vintage 1690 farmhouse she called Stillmeadow. I think my mother moved out of the city when I was 14, in part, because of Stillmeadow.

Through my four years of high school, we lived on a 20 acre farm. She named Terre Boon, which means the good land. I’m sure she thought it was going to be harder for me to get into trouble when we lived on a farm. Not impossible but harder. I reread “Country Chronicles,“ this past evening. It’s a journal of Taber’s first full year at Stillmeadow. It was written in 1974 when she was 85 years old. Country Chronicles is written in four parts, based on the four seasons, starting with winter.  I really can’t tell you what the appeal was when I was a teenager and first read these journals. They are the insights of an older woman and her life with her good friend, her children and her cocker spaniels. She writes about her meals, her neighbors, the snow, her house, the fresh smells of the country and the chores around Stillmeadow.

I randomly opened Country Chronicles to page 62 and here’s what Tabor wrote:

“On a clear day, toward the end of winter, the sky is forever. It loses the flat look of a bitter cold days, and seems to have a special promise. Even the birds fly differently, in widening circles instead of huddling. The air smells of melt instead of ice, and the buds on the lilacs are freshly varnished.”

Gladys Taber loved country life and shares tidbits of her “philosophy of life” throughout her books. Many of them were written during the Vietnam war and have an activist feel to them at times.

Here are some of the things that drove her to leave the rat race, and pursue country living:

  1. She writes a lot about the Vietnam war, and the effect that it had on relationships. I think her comments are somewhat appropriate in this very polarize time that we live in today. She writes, “The Vietnam war has been blamed for many things, and I suspect it had something to do with personal isolation, therefore, we now tend to keep conversations superficial in case that other person does not agree with our policy. We keep our cool, as we say, by talking about the weather.” I find myself in today’s rat race withdrawing and keeping my topics on small talk.
    2. Tabor worried about the loss of farmland and about progress. She wonders, “what the next hundred years will bring is not predictable. But I hope the basic personality of our town may survive with some woodlands and meadows left, some streams, still rippling with trout, some winding country roads unpaved.“ I think this is still relevant today.
    3. Clocks. Tabor hated clocks. “Within our society,” she writes, “we all watch the clock, nevertheless. They are clocks in almost every room in the house, and practically everyone wears a wrist watch. Radio and television announce the time hour after hour, to be sure, we know exactly what time it is.” Part of the rat race is being at the mercy of the moment, and at the mercy of time, and at the mercy of schedules. Maybe unplugging means leaving your wrist watch and your smart phone at your bedside for a day or two.
    4. Tabor loved her pets! She writes: “I stand firmly on my belief that both dogs and cats give richness to life, and both have been invaluable to humankind down through the ages.” Pets were a large part of her life, and I’m sure helped her have a sense of getting away from the rat race.
    5. For Taber, happiness was a choice. “I believe happiness,” she writes, “is simply reaching out for something lovely and believing in it. All of us need some magic in our lives, and all we have to do is believe in it.” Later she writes, “It may be that happiness is as simple as accepting what we are, and never envying those who seem to be endowed with other gifts.”
    I think that part of the rat race that we create for ourselves, is the competition that we create for ourselves with other people. Tabor reminds us that life is not a competition and maybe it’s as simple as appreciating the magic that is around us.
    6. Being grateful. By the time she wrote this book, she had lost her husband, but instead of feeling pity, she practiced gratitude. “I think,” she explains, “when we find so much to complain about, we should spend a little time, adding up what we have, and being grateful. I myself never open a box of tissues, without being thankful. I am not boiling up squares of linen.” I am not sure what, “boiling up squares of linen,” means, but it must not be one of her preferred activities.
    7. Tabor had a rather old fashioned idea of parenting. Maybe this is why my mother was drawn to her. She believed that mothers should stay home and take care of their children. I think in today’s world, the application of Taber’s old fashionness should be interpreted as: parents spend as much time as you can with your children. The rat race acts as a siren, pulling us away from our partners and our children. We should realize that those wonderful moments with family are in fact, a way of escaping the rat race, which soothe our sakes.

I think we can safely say that Stillmeadow rescued Gladys Tabor from the rat race. Maybe Stillmeadow can rescue you as well even though her books are difficult to find because they are out of print.

Or maybe you can escape by taking a walk or hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest, or The  Parklands. May be reading sci-fi is a way for you to escape. Or adventure novels.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move to the country.

To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

 

Healthy Aging: Physical Resiliency “The older the house more the maintenance.”

“The Older The House, More The Maintenance” | Healthy Aging Series: Part 13

(Read the last paragraph first!)

I remember sitting in a classroom at Portland Community College, Portland Oregon (pronounced aw-ruh-gun, not aw-ruh-gone). It was 1979. The Class was Lifespan Development. The instructor was John Lawrence. The first words out of his mouth were, “The older the house the more the maintenance.” Since then, I’ve owned an older home for twenty years. I know exactly what he meant, except of course, he was talking about the aging process and, yes of course, he meant our bodies. Drive by any abandoned home. Anywhere. Roll down you window and stare at it for 5 or 10 minutes. Now, think about this: That’s you if you don’t take care of your body.

I can predict your future.

What you eat and how much you exercise will determine your future physical resiliency. What you eat and how much you exercise will determine almost everything about your future. Don’t delude yourself. You cannot escape the consequences of bad diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

Exercise: The Silver Bullet.

I’m going to write several blogs on fitness and health and aging, so this will be a brief explanation of the benefits of exercising. Having an active lifestyle is the best gift that you can give to your future self. One of the more important books I’ve read over the past five or 10 years is a book entitled, “Younger Next Year,” by Chris Crowley. It’s a book that promotes a good diet and regular exercise. Read it!

If there’s one thing you can do to improve your resiliency it’s, start exercising. Here are some of those benefits: 

  1. Exercising helps control weight. It helps prevent obesity and accompanying diseases.
  2. Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of premature death. 
  3. Exercise helps manage blood sugar and insulin. 
  4. Exercise improves our mental health which enhances in mind-body connection. I’ve written about this in an earlier blog. 
  5. Exercise improves your brain functioning, see future blogs and the aging brain. 
  6. Exercise reduces the chances of falls. See future blogs and fall prevention. 
  7. Exercise helps to maintain muscle mass. Losing muscle mass is a big problem as we age, and dramatically impacts our physical resiliency.

Diet: You Can’t Outrun a Bad Diet

Michael Pollen writes, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The purpose of a resiliency-based diet is threefold: 

  1. Helps maintain weight and muscle mass. I don’t believe this means starving yourself. It means portion control. Most Americans eat too many calories and not enough protein for muscle mass maintenance. But there is a caveat to promoting muscle growth. You must also couple protein intake by or with exercise.  Muscle mass equals stability and mobility. 
  2. Provides needed natural micro and macro nutrients. Your body was engineered to extract needed micronutrients from real food. If you’re eating real food, unless your doctor prescribes supplements, you don’t need to take them. I was taking zinc because I was told that “it enhances your immune system.” I told my doctor and she advised me to stop. She said that it could interfere with my ability to absorb copper. Some people take a daily vitamin for insurance but if you’re eating right, you don’t need them. Eat real food, to include lots of fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins and minerals that boost immunity and lead to enhanced resiliency. 
  3. Maintains good gut health, both pre-and probiotics. Never forget that you were eating for two: you and the colony of bacteria or microbiome that lives in your gut. Feeding the micro biome means eating lots of natural fiber, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lots of fermented food . This includes kombucha and yogurt.

Here are the benefits of a healthy gut:

  • Improved food digestion.
  • It helps regulate your immune system which promotes resiliency
  • It produces vitamins, which includes B12 Simon and riboflavin.
  • A healthy gut enhances weight control.
  • It improves your mental health by enhancing the brain gut connection. A heathy gut improves cardiovascular health by helping to control cholesterol.

How do we improve our microbiome?

  1. Eat fruit and fermented food to include yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir. Be mindful that sauerkraut often is not fermented but simply stored in salt brine.
  2. Eat a wide range of real food. Vegetables, beans, fruit, fiber, whole grains. Eat foods that include polyphenols. Red wines, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil. Limit your use of antibiotics.

Physical resilience is the result of good diet and exercise.

Make no mistake. You cannot eat junk food and neglect fruit and vegetables, on top of living a sedentary lifestyle, and expect to be a physically resilient person. Your ability to bounce back from viruses, broken bones, exposure to chemicals or other toxins, and from genetic minefields, if you do not take care of your body. That’s as simple as it gets. It’s about taking care of your body. If you take care of your body, you will be a more resilient person now and in years to come.

Don’t do what I say, do what I do!

I’ve just finished editing this blog. I’m visiting my granddaughters in Colorado. I’m leaving my room in a few minutes for a 2-hour hike in the mountains. I had a high-fiber, high protein breakfast with some fruit. I work out every day, most weeks. I eat food, not too much, mostly plants, most weeks. 

This is part thirteen in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.