Part 1: My Parents
The last 10 years of my father‘s life were very difficult. He died at 82. At 72 he had quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery. Then he received an Aortobifemoral Artery Replacement. And then he needed a small section of his colon removed because of cancer.
The doctor performed the heart bypass surgery gathered us around in the surgery waiting room and told us that there were signs of emphysema. This was not good. He recovered from his surgeries but over the next 10 years suffered from COPD which was caused by the emphysema.
It would not surprise you to hear that my father was a lifelong smoker. Most of my father‘s health problems were lifestyle related. My mother fared better but her last 10 years were challenging. Mom was physically unstable. She walked to Hardee’s every morning about 2/10 of a mile. I had coffee and socialized with her peer group. I do not remember mom ever exercising. Beyond mild cardio and I never remember any resistance training. Consequently mom fell at least twice she was lucky because neither fall resulted in a hospitalization but she short suffered a shoulder injury and her face was black and blue. She also suffered from atrial fibrillation or a-fib. It can be genetic but more often it’s a lifestyle related disorder. My mom‘s instability and a-fib were due, in large part, to lack of cardio training and mobility stability training. My mother‘s death was caused by symptoms related to the a-fib. She had difficulties with it a month prior to her death. She was hospitalized and most likely contracted an opportunist virus.
I tell my clients, “You have to prepare for the last 10 years of your life.” I tell them that these are in all likelihood going to be the most difficult years of your life because those are the years that you are more vulnerable and susceptible to opportunistic illnesses and injuries related to instability and lack of mobility.
Mom and dad were examples of just how important it is to take care of yourself.
Part 2: Practicing What I Preach
I’ve been very fortunate in my 40s, 50s, and now 60s. I’ve been doing the Grand Canyon since 2001 almost every year. I’ve backpacked Rim to River to Rim (R2R2R) 15 times or more. A few years ago I did R2R2R2R2R in a period of three days.
I can do the Incline, in Manitou Springs Colorado, a 1 mile in distance but gaining 2000 feet of elevation, in 75 minutes.
I’ve done some hellacious backpacking trips in California to include Mount Whitney the highest peak in the continental United States. I have backpacked in the Tetons in Wyoming, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and many 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. I’ve run several half-marathons and two marathons and countless of 5Ks, 10Ks, and 10 Miler‘s,
I’ve ridden my Cannondale 613 across the state of Indiana, 161 miles, the day before my 55th birthday, all in one day. I rode across the Golden Gate bridge, ridden the Mount Vernon trail to DC, and along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I’ve kayaked a 20 mile stretch of the Green River through Mammoth Cave National Park.
I recently rebooted my interest in orienteering, and have been running through the woods. I lift weights almost every week. Tristin, my Personal trainer from my 50s asked me what I wanted for my goals and I answered: I want to be a badass at 60.
I spent my 60th birthday on the top of Mount Bierstadt.
I’m not in perfect health. My kidneys don’t filter like they used to. Most likely due to taking too much ibuprofen. My thyroid doesn’t work anymore. I take level thyroxine. I’m 5 pounds heavier than I want. I walk or hike 3 to 5 miles 4-5 times a week. I still lift weights 2 to 3 times weekly I use intermittent fasting control my weight. Monday through Friday I don’t eat until noon. I avoid sugar during the week. I limit my alcohol intake to one or two drinks daily. I like getting “Misty“ in the evenings much like Gus McCrae confessed in the novel “Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry. I think sugar is the scourge of our modern era. Did I say that I think sugar is the scourge of our modern era! I’ll be 66 this year and I want to do a feat of strength like Jack Lalaine did every year but I’m learning to be more gentle on my body.
I take more break days. I cut back on my mileage. I’m getting older. There, I said it. When I was in my mid-50s I started to think about aging so I concluded that I needed more information. I started reading. And I got certified as a Personal Trainer with a specially in Senior Fitness. A few years back I read everything I could about nutrition. Now I’m reading everything I can on healthy aging and fitness.
Part 3: How to Prepare for the Last Ten Years of Your Life
Here is what I’ve learn about preparing for the last ten years of your life:
Never stop moving! Walk, skip, jump. Lift, carry, transfer! Park as far from the entrance of the store as you can. Lift as much as you can and of course lift with your legs. Walk in the parks, walk in your neighborhood, walk after dinner, walk on walking paths, walk on trails, and of course lift weights. Do squats, do step ups, and move in any way that you possibly can! Never stop moving.
2. Incorporate instability in your movement!
If a doctor tells you to use a cane or walker and follow those recommendations. Otherwise incorporate as much instability in your workouts as you possibly can. Walking on level streets is good but walking on unlevel surfaces is even better! I typically run into hikers doing day hikes in the Jefferson forest and see them using trekking poles. This is providing a level of stability utilizing their arms and trekking poles and upper body that is preventing their legs and lower body and core from strengthening the muscles that they need to increase their stability. The more unstable your surface the more likely that it’s going to create stability in your core and in your legs! This is very important! I recently became a Functional Aging Specialist and this is absolutely the most current information that you can have on becoming more stable as you age.
3. Build Muscle Mass
One of the conditions that begins in mid-life that affects most people is something known as Sarcopenia. This is a loss of muscle mass. Hormonal changes in middle life, such as decreasing growth hormone, contribute to this loss of muscle mass. You can, however, counteract this process by maintaining a moderate level of resistance training and consuming an adequate amount of protein. Researchers have been studying protein supplements with and without exercise and have overwhelmingly concluded that an increase in protein supplement without exercise contributes very little muscle growth. If you want to maintain or grow muscle mass then do resistance training. It’s one way to ensure that you don’t suffer from Sarcopenia.
4. Fitness and the Brain
One of my concerns as I age is my brain. I’ve read numerous books on developing a healthy brain or maintaining a healthy brain and here’s what I’ve learned: the two more most important things that you can do are: eating lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise. It’s that simple. You maintain a healthy brain by exercise and good nutrition.
I titled this blog, Your Body is a Temple. One thing is very certain: you only have one body that is going to get you through until the day that you pass on. You have to take care of it, and you have to start taking care of it now. In a sense there should be some amount of reverence that you show towards your body. Take care of it. Nurture it. Exercise it. Ensure that it’s getting the absolute best fuel that you can give it.
Preparing for the last 10 years of your life means preparing now.
Exercise and eat well!
This is part nine in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.