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Surviving well in old age

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping your New Year’s Resolutions were good ones even though they may be very short lived. Statistically speaking, fewer than 10% of Americans ever stick to their resolutions. The main reason is that those resolutions, such as going to the gym or learning a new language, are easy enough to make but are rarely backed by any real motivation or purpose.

By comparison I have a friend who, some years ago, quit smoking overnight, cold turkey. He decided to quit because his first child had just been born. He didn’t want his son to grow up in a house full of nicotine stains and tobacco smells. Rather than simply wishing he could quit smoking my friend made a decision backed with a solid reason that made it easy to quit.

My resolution this year is to share some observations and insights that may provide reason enough for preparing ourselves to survive well as we “get older”. Most people make decisions about retirement finances and where they want to live once they quit working. But, without some planning and decision making in advance some may find their lives without purpose or meaning.

I’ve personally watched family members who entered retirement totally unprepared for the life ahead. They were in good physical and mental condition when they quit working, but then they essentially gave up. They stopped traveling and visiting friends, quit going to church, and rejected family attempts at help and encouragement. Little by little they worked themselves into a rut until they became totally disengaged, living with no sense of purpose. Their doctor found no dementia or depression, but rather he called it “stubborn apathy.” It’s the same sort of apathy that can overwhelm us when we find ourselves unprepared in the wilderness; we don’t know what to do and so we do nothing.

My wife and I noticed that these family members were missing some very basic elements in their lives that could have made a big difference: physical activity and exercise, a meaningful hobby, and some ongoing social interaction. We determined that we would not fall into the same rut and that possibly those same three elements might go a long way towards keeping apathy from ever gaining a foothold.

Physical exercise of some kind, several times a week, is really important to help maintain flexibility, strength and endurance. Nothing provides more long term survival value than deciding to get in shape and stay there. Too many Americans are obese and out of shape; essentially giving up and deciding not to take care of themselves. I once had a neighbor, eighty years old, who still had a good grip and surprising arm strength. Her “secret” was a plastic gallon jug of water sitting by her chair. One day she explained, “Every morning I lift it up five times with each arm. I do five more before I go to bed. Even on days when I can’t do them all, I can still do some.” Survivors don’t quit.

Having a good hobby can also have many rewards in later years, allowing us to remain productive for ourselves and others. I have a ninety year old friend in Texas named Maggie who spends each morning out in her flower garden. Gardening lends focus to Maggie’s day and provides her an incentive to stay active. She even teaches gardening to other seniors at her church. This simple hobby provides physical activity and helps keep Maggie’s mind sharp while also creating regular interaction with friends.

My wife and I also promised each other to watch as little television as possible. We still enjoy sports and movies, but it’s way too easy to get stuck watching TV for hours at a time. I find the national “news” to be mostly negative anyway; filled with political propaganda from former party staffers who get hired as “journalists” and commentators. I would rather relax with my favorite tunes playing in the workshop while I tackle a new woodworking project.

Surviving well in “old age” calls for some planning ahead, just like getting ready for that next outdoor adventure. Learn more at www.mountaineerwilderness.com