Have you ever heard someone say, “I feel old”? Was it someone who was younger than you, perhaps a good bit younger? I had that happen recently. And I reflected again that while I am not as young as I once was, I still remain young at heart and in mind. Part of it is because I have recalled over the past 10 years how my parents were at my age, and I feel like I am in such a better place than they were in many ways.

My dad suffered his first stroke at age 48 when I was just 10 years old. He made a great recovery, but the affects lingered and hampered him the rest of his life. My mom suffered from respiratory illness and an irregular heartbeat and passed away way too early – at age 62. I endeavored to maintain my health and avoid the struggles they had – especially watching my blood pressure which my dad never did.

Eat the apple and see the doctor

I believe there are several keys to staying young as we grow older, and they reinforce each other. The first is one that my dad did not pay attention to: regular doctor visits. He felt if he wasn’t sick, he didn’t need a doctor. He was pretty healthy, but things crept up. Being part of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the 1930’s kept him pretty active. Plus, he hiked a lot and his parents moved around a bunch, so he kept busy. He continued to hike and camp – we did a couple weeks of camp during each summer growing up.

But he also worked in an office, so he started to be more sedentary. Weight gain and high blood pressure contributed to unseen dangers that led to that first stroke. If he had seen a doctor regularly and kept watch on the cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, he might have avoided that early stroke.

Learning from his experience I have kept active with daily walks and regular doctor visits. When my blood pressure showed too high to donate blood, shortly after 9-11 I made a doctor appointment and began regular blood pressure medication, which has enabled me to curtail its rise. I also began regular diabetes medication when my glucose numbers got too high. Since I know my family medical history, I know the value of regular checkups.

Go For a Walk

The second thing is regular exercise. In earlier years I did quite a bit of hiking – including a Grand Canyon hike that was quite exhausting but exhilarating. I also did few 5Ks and briefly dreamed about doing a half marathon – not quite enough endurance for that. Since I work from home I am able to walk every day before work and also on the weekends. My daily walks are about 2 miles around the neighborhood. My weekends are a time for exploring local trails and extend to a few more miles.

Walking not only provide me with daily exercise. I also get to experience nature and that is important for the mind and soul as well. The smell of green growth in grass and trees, the sight of wildlife and wildflowers, and just feeling the breeze is a stimulant to thought and a lightening of the heart. It allows me to unwind from the stress of work and life and recharge for the start of another workday.

You Are What You Eat

The third thing is watching what you eat. Not only avoiding the bad stuff – sweets, overly salty, not to mention alcohol and smoking – which thankfully I never was exposed to or tempted with growing up. But also trying to load up on the good things. It is said you are what you eat and I believe that. One of my challenges is portion size and lazy eating. Many times we eat not because we are really hungry but because of we think we should eat -daily habits and social pressures (who goes to a party and doesn’t eat?). It takes effort to not eat – or clean off your plate – when raised to take a bite of everything and finish everything on your plate before desert (my parents lived through the Great Depressions so that was their mantra).

Another unaddressed need is to savor your life – not just food but also your daily experiences. We tend to rush through life, gobbling our way. Try to slow down and enjoy life and pay attention to your taste buds – they will be triggered by the best foods. Don’t settle for second best.

Never Stop Learning – Education is Forever

We also need to keep learning, keep reading, keep expanding our minds. We may have left school far behind but that doesn’t mean we are done with education. My family was and is reading intensive. I like to joke that I was born in a library because our house was full of books of all kinds. My sisters and I are avid readers because of it. I have met people who say “I’m not really a reader, not into books” and I am just astonished -“why not?” I am also incredibly and incurably curious and that keeps me reading.

It is also important to surround yourself with like-minded people. People who are curious, informed, eager to learn. They will enrich your life and stimulate you to keep learning. It is good to surround yourself with reasonable people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Part of this for me is my participation in Toastmasters. I get to present thought provoking speeches to an audience, they give me feedback, and I also get to listen to their speeches and learn. We share our lives and stories and keep ourselves young.

Another reason for spending time learning and exposing ourselves to new experiences and sources of information is that the brain gets stronger by being exposed to new information. The formation of new synapses – new pathways in the brain-is caused by this – as we will explore in tomorrow’s post.