Brief Notes on Staying Healthy After 55
Some personal notes, and a break from the usual rundown of sources and/or data on the big picture concerns.
This is in reaction to current life events— as well as some comments elsewhere and some ongoing family drama. Staying healthy is a challenge. Requiring commitment. Full stop. Since everyone is finally an experiment of one, I can only speak for myself in regard to particulars.
So below what I believe helps — on five general topics. Despite the tone, this not meant as a life-lesson to others. I need to put things on paper, so to speak, to have clarity and keep focus. I’m at that age.
First, eat clean. Only real food close to the source. Cut the sugar and crap carbs. Cut out highly processed foods altogether as much as you can. That’s the basics — the rest is details, and several ways to go about it.
Second, stay active and keep moving. I cannot maintain a healthy weight unless I do resistance training: for me, weight-training (there are other forms). Other people’s mileage might vary. But in the words of one Jonathon Sullivan, MD, PhD, SSC:
[A]trophy and loss of muscle tissue in aging is not just a matter of getting weaker and skinnier, which is bad enough. Muscle tissue loss is nothing short of a catastrophe. The impact of muscle atrophy and sarcopenia on health care costs is astronomical.
So even if a person is a runner or whatever with a great VO2 max and always at a healthy weight, they still might want to consider adding resistance training to the mix.
Third, and one of life’s hardest lessons that I have to constantly relearn, to cut your losses you need to take your losses. Take the loss. Move on. Susan David, in Emotion Agility, states this well:
Waiting too long to face up to the cold hard facts can cost you plenty as the doors to other opportunities continue to close. Sometimes the truly courageous thing is to say, “I just can’t do this to myself anymore.”
But there’s no shame — in fact there’s actually a lot of virtue — in making a logical, heartfelt choice. Instead of looking at these transitions as giving up, look at them as moving on.
You’re letting yourself evolve and grow along with your circumstances, choosing a new path that is full of possibility. That decision is filled with grace and dignity.
So toxic relationships, personal and professional. Just let go and move on. Easier said than done, but I also learned awhile back that justice is 2 cents on the dollar. When it truly goes belly-up or bankrupt, you never get back what you put in. So you can chase that 2 cents — try be vindicated, or get revenge, or be proven right. Or you can just get on with your life. The other person or other parties are not going to change. So why get angry, depressed, or sick about it? Although I have done all these things to myself. But “I just can’t do this to myself anymore.”
Stop making yourself sick over people who won’t give an F if you die. In fact, if you die on the job, what happens? You’re replaced within 2 weeks. It’s business, nothing personal. If you were doing something needed, then they will find someone else to meet that need — fill that position. It is not worth your health. Nor is a failing personal relationship. I hate admitting failure. I hate quitting. But as Susan David well frames it, understand it this way: you’re choosing a new path full of possibility.
No Pharma (Or, as little as possible)
Fourth, when I was suffering from a lifestyle disease as well as chronic anger and depression, I changed my lifestyle. In fact, I not only changed how I lived but where —I changed nations. And I made living healthier my priority. (Within just 6 months I had vast improvements on all the bio-markers that really matter, including body composition and body weight).
I was working the one job I left to do what? Save for retirement? No point in saving for old age if you’re not going to get there. No joke, I was that bad — personal health info I’d rather not share. In the space of just four years at my previous employer, I went downhill fast. The formerly healthy and active me had become one of those people in their 50s I always found inexplicable.
I knew that prescription drugs were not the answer. Likewise, that self-medicating with alcohol and recreational drugs was also not the answer. I’ve seen too many examples of both failing — I have my own list of dead people I knew from high school and from grad school. They just drugged up and kept going: making themselves sicker and billionaires richer. This is “normal” but not for me.
Some of these people were “deaths of despair” — but some were not. Those who were not had six figure salaries, excellent health insurance, nice homes in nice neighborhoods — the whole bit. They popped all the pills their doctors prescribed. But still died before age 60. In fact, the two wealthiest died before age 55. They also skipped the gym, and ate SAD: the standard American diet. One was a full professor (tenured and all that) at a pseudo-or-near-Ivy; the other, a banker financial-tech guy at a mega-bank. Neither of them survived their first major heart attack. Both were summarily replaced with younger, cheaper versions. Institutionally speaking, no one is irreplaceable. The show must go on.
So deal with the causes — don’t take toxic meds which only treat the symptoms and so disguise and perpetuate the problems. Yes, a lifestyle disease or the early stages thereof does mean you might want to change your life. I did.
Sort Out Your Relationship with Money
Fifth and finally, I’ve seen many people with health problems or self-admitted emotional problems who also not surprisingly have money problems. I am not qualified to give financial advice, and I will not. But I would encourage anyone who has not read Your Money or Your Life to do so. The book is not about money — it is about our relationship with money.
I did at more than one point engage in mindless spending. I had a place that I filled with stuff if only so the rooms would not appear empty. When it came time to move internationally (again, as I am a slow learner), I had to ask myself: “WHEN did I buy all this crap? I don’t even remember doing it. WHY did I buy it?” I sold a bunch at a song, and donated the proceeds to a local animal shelter. I wasn’t dragging it across the ocean with me. I was embarrassed that I owned it.
I was so busy with my alleged career and so entangled in my increasing wreck of a personal life that I lost track of my health and my spending. Never again.
By both life circumstances and choice, I am increasingly a minimalist. I don’t want to own a bunch of things just to own things — I want to own my time. I want control over my life— not to be surrendering all my waking hours to solving other people’s problems. So I make financial decisions, daily and long-term, to that end. I work less now and earn less, but live simpler and healthier. Health takes priority.
So much for all that
You will meet with resistance from family, friends, and co-workers. Change is threatening. At the end of the day, your actions decide your outcomes — and you decide your actions. Breaking away from the herd feels threatening. But when your fellow citizens are being drugged up and fattened up to serve as docile and disposable profit-points, maybe your safety is not in numbers. Maybe it is in self-reliance, and associating with a smaller group of like-minded individuals.
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