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Lessons On Healthy Aging Learned From Mom
My mom has always been my greatest mentor, from my early days, when I needed to learn, well, everything (turns out chocolate candy was the key to potty-training and learning math) to today, when I need more serious advice (and I’m still motivated by chocolate).
Much of the time, I’ve learned by her example. When it comes to aging, she’s doing it with grace and a style all her own. Here are some important lessons I’ve picked up along the way, interspersed with bits and pieces of advice from my mom, herself.
Keep moving. My parents love national parks and take vacations that are more active than anyone I know. They’ll canoe for hours in the morning and then hike during the day. When she’s not on the road, my mom goes for a long daily walk, lifts weights, stretches, works in the yard, canoes (and picks up litter in the process) and more. Her body is strong and she’s managed to stay healthy. "Use it or lose it," she advises. “No one can do this for you.”
Keep your mind moving. She’s always listening to an audio book, playing online brain teasers, challenging friends to online word games, reading the news, trying new recipes and planning adventures to new places. In the process, she’s keeping her mind sharp and engaged. Plus, she tells me she makes sure she has something on the docket every day so she doesn’t get restless. “Have a plan for each day, even if nothing is planned,” she suggests.
Date night is still important. My parents have been married for more than 40 years. About halfway into that, they discovered that other stresses (life, work, kids) had managed to seep into just about all of their own personal time together. So they started dating—each other—again. They’d alternate planning outings each week, and put aside their work and worries and get back to the basics. The lesson: you have to make your relationship a priority, and not let it take a back burner to everything else. “If you have a significant other, engage, interact, cooperate, laugh, challenge and support,” says Mom. “Most of all, enjoy.”
Eat healthy most days, but don’t be afraid to splurge. “Eat like your life depends on it, because in many ways, it does,” says Mom. “A strong body has never been more important.” A well-balanced diet, loaded with fruits and vegetables, was ever-present during my upbringing, and it’s a habit that stuck. But my mom also isn’t afraid to splurge on an order of onion rings or a burger here and there (and neither am I). Everything in moderation.
Visit the doctor regularly (and wear sunscreen). I come from a fair-skinned family, and a recent scare was a reminder to always wear sunscreen and keep skin protected. Thankfully, my mom was on top of it. When she saw something that looked weird, she went to the doctor right away.
Be open-minded and try new things. It’s easy to let habits take over and stick with the old tried and true. But it’s important to shake things up once in a while—meet new people and try new things. “Stay out of ruts,” says Mom. “We all form habits, but ruts lead to dull and boring. New places, new menus, new schedules can keep things interesting.”
Stay connected. My mom has always valued having a few close friends and works hard to maintain those friendships and family relationships, catching up with all of us, one-on-one, when she can. She also keeps tabs on family and acquaintances through social media.