Saturday, March 26, 2011
Maintaining One's Health and Energy into the Seventies and Beyond
A lot of people have asked me: where do you get your energy? I don’t know the exact answer, but I can tell you the things I do that contribute to it. First of all, I learned a few years ago about telomeres. They’re part of our cells. If our telomeres are happy and doing their job of replacing cells as needed, our body keeps thriving. If not, we begin to die.
You’ve noticed that some people as they age remain healthy and vigorous; others begin to "fail," as my mother used to say. I believe my telomeres are happy. I still work hard, doing farm work, one to four hours a day, depending on the season. Right now, in the spring planting season, after I walk one and a half to two miles, I spend about three hours digging (I farm with hand tools), weeding, watering, but I break it up.
I learned from Frank Lloyd Wright, who was active and creative into his nineties, the trick of varying my activities. So I write first thing, then walk, then check e-mail, then go dig for fifteen-twenty minutes, then do something quiet in the house, then dig another short time; then eat lunch and read a book (presently Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now but often a mystery novel), then dig another short time; then work at teaching preparation, editing, or my own writing for two hours, then have yoghurt and read twenty minutes.
Then more outside work, 4-5, with a break if it’s digging, to check email. Then read a little, eat some fruit; then wash the accumulated dishes, which I’d rather do before than after supper, because I love to sip my tea and read until 7; then outside awhile, depending on the light. Then two hours writing. Then last email check; then read, bath, bed. I sleep seven-eight hours normally, and even if by 11 P.M., I’m very tired, I sleep soundly and wake refreshed.
Attitude makes all the difference in our motivation. I have so many things I want to do before I die. I feel good. Off and on, I have minor problems (crippled toes, corrected by good shoes), poison ivy (inevitably, but once mistaken for shingles), a repeat mammogram, but the spot was a tiny cyst, not cancer).
A couple of years ago I had touch of flu, despite flu shot, aggravated by a smoking woodstove (lesson learned), so one morning I couldn’t breathe and had to be taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room. The nurse on duty, seeing me come in, said, "You’re going home." He had correctly assessed that I wasn’t very sick, but I had to have all those expensive tests (EKG, chest x-ray) to prove it.
Fortunately, my regular doctor understands that I’m in quite good health, sees me accurately. I argued him out of hormone replacement therapy, and now he says I was right. I recently argued him out of cholesterol medicine, when mine was borderline, and he himself researched in The People’s Pharmacy books about oat bran and red yeast rice. I already put oat bran in the bread I made and ate it as a hot cereal for lunch in cooler weather. I began taking 1200 mg of red yeast rice a day, and my cholesterol came down.
I’m a passionate person, and I like to save money so as to save time to write. I’m still working for living at nearly seventy-four, but it’s teaching, editing, and farming, all of which I enjoy, and they balance each other. We have to use our minds and bodies to keep them in prime shape. When I tell my doctor about some of the gymnastics I go through to pick figs that are out of reach or to re-set the chickens’ flexible fence and untangle all the poles and strings, he says, "Good! Good! You’re using your muscles." And "I wish all my patients were farmers."
For me the hardest part is getting started. Once I get seeds in the ground, begin a poem or a book, I’m committed. I have to finish it. My friend Sharon in Oregon said to me, when we were in our forties, "It’s important to have something to look forward to every day." I look forward to my morning diary with (now) cocoa and toast, yoghurt and fruit. For years it was coffee, but I let that go recently, and I do sleep better. I preserve that early morning time, even getting up earlier if I have to leave the house early for an appointment.
But I need a healthy life in order to do all the writing I still have to do. I have learned by reading, especially in the AARP magazine, the qualities found in people aging well, and I think these things are true of me, and I nourish them.
1) I enjoy my life.
2) I’m still working and enjoy my work.
3) I get exercise almost every day.
4) I sleep well.
5) I like other people and help them when I can. I’ve learned to know better when they need to learn to help themselves.
6) I feel spiritually connected to the larger world around me, to the deeper world within me.
7) I have friends to whom I can speak freely, and I have people in my life who cherish and value me, and a few who hate me, but I don’t dwell on them. I do tend to speak my mind.
8) I can concentrate on reading, on thinking, on writing, and forget where I am. I experience the Muse, when words flow easily as if of their own accord.
9) I don’t regret anything for me about my life, because I learned from everything, especially from my mistakes and my suffering. I am sorry that my mistakes caused my children to suffer, but they’re all grown now, sturdy, competent, learning as they go, too.
10) I can adapt and cope. It’s not always fun. I hate car problems, escaping chickens, hard freezes which destroy a whole year’s fruit corp, or sudden illness, which means I have to go to the doctor. But I do what I need to, and then I write about it. The interruptions and problems often stimulate my best writing.
I pay attention to my body, rest when tired, don’t overeat, and now I don’t eat after supper, as I sleep better. I also attend to my moods. If I get discouraged, I write about it or talk to a friend. Mostly, I’m cheerful and content with my life. I wish to get more books published, and I work on that.
I also wish for a partner/lover, but I’m fine on my own. Perhaps I’ll get some of these wishes and maybe not. But I can appreciate and enjoy what I do have: my little farm, overrun by violets at the moment–so beautiful, if only most of them weren’t in the vegetable garden. I also have my writing, a life-long commitment, a real vocation, and more time now to do it and attend to publishing it.
My family–children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren–is dear to me, and it’s always a joy to hear from them and see them, but they have busy, interesting lives of their own, and so do I. I have good friends, nearby and through e-mail, and good neighbors–we help each other. I have no complaints. I may be poor technically, as far as money, but I know I’m rich. I have what I need and all the riches that money can’t buy.