Most New Year’s Resolutions are goals to change. This year most of mine are not. As I prepare to officially enter the “fourth stage of life,” that period from 76 until death (a depressing subject I prefer to ignore), I am spending more time than usual evaluating where I am and where I want to be. I want to become more proactive in cultivating habits that will make the rest of my life better.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
At this stage of life, I can no longer take for granted good health “forever.” In some ways, then, my resolution is more a hope than a goal. However, while I have no control over cancer, that most dreaded life-changer, I do have lifestyle choices that impact heart disease, diabetes, mobility, perhaps even dementia.
About 20 years ago, I heard Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who coined the word “aerobics,” describe why we need to stay fit and active. He said, “It’s not about the length of life. It’s about the quality of life.” The average person spends the last six years in seriously declining health, while healthy individuals tend to enjoy a good quality of life almost to the end.
Since numerous members of my family have lived into their 90s and even past 100, I need to stay healthy and independent for a long time. I potentially have one-fourth of my life in front of me.
Cooper motivated me 20 years ago. I lost 25 pounds and worked out with a personal trainer three days a week. I was a poster child for the Cooper Clinic wellness program.
But it only lasted a couple of years. My trainer left the gym, and the new trainer pushed me too hard, increasing my knee problems. Those 25 pounds crept back on.
During the years of Lev’s declining health, I simply could not deal with my own health. It was not just a lack of time. I had more doctors’ appointments on my calendar than I wanted to think about. I was worried and stressed about him. I coped best by simply denying that I needed to take care of myself. I knew then that my thinking was irrational—that it was more important than ever to take care of myself—but I didn’t care.
After Lev’s death, I was swamped with work learning his business, moving his office home and settling his estate. I did not have time to worry about myself. I added 10 more pounds.
Then, almost two years ago, a friend talked me into signing up for a doctor-supervised weight loss program. In four months I lost 20 pounds, and I have kept it off.
Why have I been more successful this time?
Keeping a food journal for four months, checking in with the nurse every two weeks was sufficient time to develop good nutritional habits—low carbs, salt and fat; high protein and vegetable; not just calorie counting. The program was realistic for the long-term for both diet and exercise. I did not go hungry, and I did not exercise. But I was and am active. I have never been a couch potato.
Despite arthritis and its chronic pain, I still walk a lot. I garden when I can. I carry my own groceries and load my luggage into the car and the overhead bin of the plane. My philosophy is “use it or lose it.” Too many women become dependent on their husbands to do all the heavy work. Then, when they are alone, they can’t do it. I have seen the consequences among older family members and friends, and I have read studies that found that if we’re not active in our 70s, we won’t be mobile in our 80s.
I have my annual detox time on Nantucket, where I have no car and walk about three miles each day. I eat almost nothing but local seafood and vegetables during the summer. I climb stairs every day. I am stress-free. It’s my substitute for a spa vacation.
So I want to keep on keeping on. I will keep on seeing my doctors regularly; taking the pills that protect against stroke, high cholesterol and osteoporosis; exercising my brain; minimizing stress. And I want to add one more good habit. Viewing housework and yardwork as exercise, I am trying to include an hour of physical work in my schedule every day. Here’s where those bad habits I want to bury in 2017 come into play. I wrote about them here two weeks ago. And here’s where my final resolution will come into play—To Schedule My Priorities.
Am I perfect? No. Am I realistic? Yes. How about you?
Photos: Top, buying vegetables at the Bartlett Farm truck on Main Street; bottom; back at my summer home after my daily walk to the Stop ’N’ Shop on Straight Wharf.
Note: Portions of this blog originally appeared in a 2015 blog entitled “Taking Care of Me.”