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Health July 2018

Cultivating Vigor

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Although we are lucky to live at a time when medicines extend life span, I fear that the mix of drugs people take could cause “festering” health problems for seniors.

When our kitchen cupboards pulled away from the wall, I hired a contractor to nail them back into place. He talked me into a new kitchen, resulting in a prettier and more serviceable kitchen than I ever dreamed of.

While I wrote him bigger checks than I ever dreamed of, he said, “This is your last bite of the apple.”

Training for a marathon at 71, I had no time for his ageist blather.

My new kitchen raised my standard of living, but four years later, the white cupboards show signs of age.

My husband and I do too.

I’m sitting in a hotel lobby. We’re here to hike Sequoia National Park’s trails, but my husband’s so sick with the flu/cold that we’ll return home after just a day with the big trees. This month a tooth fell out of my head — poof. Gone. I’m in the midst of an implant, hag-like, waiting three long months to fill the gap in my smile. My right eye’s vision, affected by severe dryness, requires treatment. The flu/cold affecting my husband today, felled me last week.

So, at 74 and 80, have we bitten off most of that apple? Does sickness define our future?

My editor sent me Ronnie Bennett’s blog with her question, “Are You Aging “Normally?” She quotes Yale’s Dr. Thomas Gill, professor of geriatrics whose signposts for each passing decade are:

  • The 50s: Stamina Declines
  • The 60s: Susceptibility Increases
  • The 70s: Chronic Conditions Fester
  • The 80s: Fear of  Falling Grows
  • The 90s & Up: Relying on Others

So, the slide toward loss of independence comes with decreasing energy, decreasing immune response, and decreasing coordination.

I’m turning 75 in a few months and planning to run a marathon next year. I will hike Monday with a power-hiking group of younger women. I work out at the gym most days, eat a Mediterranean diet — vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, and have no chronic conditions and rarely fall ill. These practices do not guarantee healthy aging. However, being at ideal weight, eating as above, engaging in daily aerobic exercise does diminish deterioration. Let me shine a personal light on Gill’s “signposts,” without assigning age to them.

Decline of Stamina: True, I’m a slower runner in my 70s. However, I fill my day with writing reading, gardening, grandmothering, running, hiking, weight training, classes, cooking and more. With a morning run and afternoon gym workout, I sleep soundly. I haven’t noticed decreased stamina.

Susceptibility increases: My less active friends have joint replacements, some have diabetic or pre-diabetic conditions. They are on a variety of cholesterol and blood pressure medications. So far, I have no chronic conditions except osteoporosis, bone loss. Yes, this month’s health challenges are notable, but none called chronic.

Chronic conditions fester — I’ve observed, friends who are inactive, experience significant weight gain and have “lifestyle” conditions, each with its own prescription. Specialists prescribe cardiac, blood sugar, or orthopedic pain medications, but who is watching the mix of meds?

According to Dr. Gill, “People tend to take an increasing number of medications [which] are likely to have side effects on their own or in combination, not all of which are predictable. Our kidneys and liver may not tolerate the meds as well as we did earlier in life.” AARP online lists “10 Drugs That May Cause Memory Loss.” Although we are lucky to live at a time when medicines extend life span, I fear that the mix of drugs people take could cause “festering” health problems for seniors.

So far, I don’t fear falling. Running and hiking over uneven surfaces gives me fairly sure balance. I do fear future lack of independence and hope to postpone its advent with robust health.

Here’s my list for resisting the slide to disease and dependence:

  1. Get out at least half hour every day. Move fast enough to sweat.
  2. Add a few days of weight training.
  3. Eat more fruit and vegetables, less meat and lots of fish. Stick to whole grains. Party with friends but next day, go back to vegetables.
  4. Cultivate relationships.
  5. Get vaccinated for flu, shingles.
  6. Get yearly check-ups.
  7. Follow your interests.

I set out to discuss “normal aging.” Actual age isn’t as important as vitality. Yes, I’m having my first dental implant, eye problem and take an osteoporosis prescription, but I’m hoping to paint my best painting Tuesday in art class. I invite you to join me in making that apple last as long as possible.

 

Carrie Luger Slayback an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .