As I jogged around my parents’ retirement community in sunny Delray Beach, I breathed deeply in gratitude. To be outdoors and have escaped the brutally cold East Coast winter, even if only for a few days, felt great!
I smiled and returned the good morning greeting of the many seniors who passed me by, mostly walking, not jogging, but walking nevertheless. An occasional biker whizzed by as well. I looked out to the golf course, and saw the many groups enjoying their sport this beautiful morning. Passing the tennis courts, the predominate color scheme was white and bald.
I have been hitting this trail a few times a year for the last 14 years since my folks bought a home here. Back then, I was running away from a fear of aging, that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, I’ve held onto for most of my adult life. Although I enjoyed escaping mid-winter every year to spend time with Mom & Dad in the Florida sun, I would breathe a sigh of relief each time I got back on the plane to return home.
The area represented to me everything about aging that freaked me out. I would get off the plane in the West Palm Beach airport, see the wheelchairs and canes, and feel as if I was holding my breath until back in NJ. The thought that the day would come when my body would refuse to do what I wanted it to do, was scary and overwhelming.
In some ways, that fear was one of my motivators for plugging away at my daily exercise regime, watching what I eat, and keeping self-care at the top of my daily “to-do” list. My attitude had always been, I can’t control getting older, but damned if I’m not going to try to control what I can. Being in the health and fitness industry, ingrained in me was the belief that so many ailments were not inevitable diseases of aging, but diseases of dis-use. Use it or lose it is one of my favorite mantras.
Now, however, I notice quite a different emotion come over me when I arrive in town. It’s awe and inspiration. No matter whether I am jogging (admittedly slower than in the past), enjoying a meal in a local restaurant with the folks, or sitting by the pool writing this blog, the background sound I always here is laughter.
There is a spirit, youthful humor and enthusiasm of these folks, that abounds if you stop to listen for it. For most, there is a celebration of life, friends and community, that we younger folks are often too busy to partake in.
Mom and Dad went off this afternoon to join the 90th birthday festivities of one of their good friends. Imagine, welcoming in the ninth decade surrounded by those you love. Well, I’m not going to rush it, but I pray I am blessed to see it!
Now don’t think for a minute that I am just lucky my folks are still here and well. Yes, I am incredibly lucky and blessed, but they’ve experienced many hardships and health obstacles over the years.
Mom who is 93, not only has survived four cancers, but is currently going through a therapy that requires her to have IV antibiotics every single day (yes…7 days a week!) for six weeks. It means sitting for one hour while medicine, that hopefully will cure an infection in her bones, drips into her system. Yet, she still greets me and the day with a giant smile, counts her blessings that the lab is so close by, and gets out of her appointment in time to make this afternoon’s party.
Dad, who is turning 90 this spring (yes, my mom was a cougar and married a younger man) was on the tennis courts four days a week until he was 85, when a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease ended his life long love affair. It’s been a battle to keep his muscles moving, and his spirits up. I am grateful and indebted to the physical therapist who comes to him four times a week and puts him through the exercises I know he would prefer not to do. But I guarantee, at some point this afternoon he will put his cane down, and take his bride of 65 years to the dance floor.
Last night, we sat at the dining room table having tea, decaf, and cake with their very dear “younger” friends. Their best buddies are in their eighth decade, so indeed younger. Friends look after each other with a dedication and devotion that seems rare, but abides in this retirement community. I suspect this is true in many, many senior communities around the country.
I listened to stories, most filled with pride, concerning children and grandchildren’s accomplishments. There were tales of the few kids who were struggling to find their way, and other friends who were currently facing health concerns. We debated the advantages and disadvantages of the “crazy world” we live in now and the dependance on technology. There was the occasional boasting about conquering computer problems, like figuring out how to sort emails into folders! But mostly we laughed. And I was reminded how much more fun it is to shmooze with folks, than talking at them on Face Book.
At breakfast, I leafed through the AARP magazine, which so far, I have refused to join! I read that the youngest baby boomers turn 50 this year! What that means to me is my generation is closer in age to the bulk of individuals living here than any of us would like to admit.
It’s probably well worth us getting to know these elders a little better, and embracing some of the lessons they have to teach. I believe these are lessons we can take to heart right now and begin having lives that feel more fulfilled and energized! Here is what I am discovering truly is the fountain of youth. I hope they will inspire you and fill your world with a bit more awe too!
1. Nurturing human connections and relationships are more important than anything else. They are the ingredients for a full and meaningful life, no matter how the body is handling the passage of time. Family, friends and community mean everything to these folks. It is their core value, and their actions support living congruently with that value.
2. Attitude and optimism is key. Adopt an attitude of the glass is always half full, never half empty. Look for the silver lining in all of life’s challenges, and the burden is lightened. One of my favorite expressions, which I know I learned from Mom, is “this too shall pass.”
3. Be a life-long learner. Whether it’s movies, theatre, lectures, books or a new game on the computer, they participate in activities that stimulate their brains.
4. As much as possible, keep moving, no matter what. Our generation was blessed with all the information on how exercise can impact our future functioning. But this was relatively late in life info for most of these folks. Many of them never laced up a pair of sneakers until they were well into their 70’s or 80’s. They support the research that it’s never too late!
5. Find the humor in all life has to offer. Nothing is more healing than a good belly laugh.
Shortly after my folks spent their first full winter down south, I asked my Dad, “So what did you think?” I have never forgotten what he said. “I saw the future, and I don’t like what I see.” Yes, the canes, walkers and wheelchairs are scary. So I will continue to do all I can to keep my body mobile and functional.
How lucky are we baby boomers than we have information that can impact how we age! Rather than approach exercise and health regimes as a “have to” or “I better or else,” let’s turn that attitude around. Next time you need a little motivation to get off the couch, be grateful that you can! And then, as Nike has told us over and over, “Just do it!”
I now look at my daily exercise as a celebration of what my body can do. I don’t run away from my fear of aging, but run for my celebration of life and the future I look forward to embracing. Yes, there are many things we will not be able to control. We can only do our best to take care of ourselves and those around us. But there is a lot to look forward to, and I’m beginning to like what I see.