Opening Up / Just like a beagle
It seems to me that what I am writing these days is the Fairfield Senior Citizen column. I can't seem to help myself; it's what I am; it's what most of my friends are and the issues of senior life are compelling.
It's not as if someone under 50 shouldn't read this. The fact is that we are living longer and it's never too soon to start thinking now about how you can minimize the effects of aging. You also may have parents who are aging and want to know what might be possible from someone else's point of view.
The new Celebrex ad says it all: "A body in motion ... tends to stay in motion." I'm no doctor so I wouldn't presume to comment on Celebrex itself, but the ad, as my Brit friends would say, is "spot on."
Just ask a few of the centenarians quoted by The New York Times in "Secrets of the Centenarians," Oct. 19. Says Esther Tuttle, 99, "I think the secret of a long life is partly genes, but I also think it's being conscious of your body. Your body is your instrument," Tuttle tells us, "So I always did a lot of yoga, stretching exercises and walking."
Right on, Esther!
In church the other day, I sat with two friends, one in her 80s and one in her 90s, both of them looking terrific. We were discussing the upcoming time change: the beginning of the long, dark days. The 80-year-old said that at least now when she leaves her home in Easton at 6 a.m. to get to the gym at 3030 Park. "I get there early, so I can have some space to myself," she confided; it will be a bit lighter. The 90-year-old said she gets to Southport Racquet Club before 7, often in the dark, to get onto the treadmill.
I don't like gyms; I don't like the machines or the atmosphere. I do go to Black Rock Pilates Studio once a week where I feel encouraged and cared for. Most mornings I do floor exercises at home and I lift weights a couple of times a week. The truth? I hate lifting weights; it's boring and I'm kind of achy afterwards but the weight lifting allows me to push, pull and carry with relative ease, as well as to fight osteoporosis. A secret? I do enjoy having the muscles.
"You just don't die, and you get to be 100," says Hazel Miller, another of the Times' centenarians. She has a point. Hazel always loved to dance, but when there ceased to be male partners available, Hazel started line dancing, joining a group called the "Silver Bells."
"We made costumes, and we danced and did public service engagements," Hazel says. Hazel also paints, reads and goes out to dinner with friends. At 100 years old, Hazel has it all happening.
People tend to think that people who exercise regularly love it and therefore it's easy for them. Not so. Not by a long shot.
It's true I love to walk. But not always. When it's windy and cold I bribe myself. I pop a hard candy or some almonds into my mouth when I head out the door. I also have walks of various lengths, so on a bad-weather day or when I'm feeling droopy, I tell myself I'll just take the short one, the one with the slow upgrade, but no steep hills. It's amazing how once I get going I can go further than I planned.
When it's cold, thoughts of a cup of hot tea and maybe a cookie when I get home urge me on. My son's beagle gets a treat at the end of every one of her walks. Why shouldn't I? My philosophy of exercise is: do it any way that works. Just do it!
Best of all inducements is having a walking partner. I have one at least three days a week. Together, we take the longer, three-hill walk. All winter we're bundled up striding along. I have Vaseline on my face; I'm blowing my nose constantly, but it's fine. In her company, I hardly notice.
Esther Tuttle tells us in the Times' article, "It's great to be 99 and to be well." Wouldn't we all love that?
Lightning can strike anyone, it's true, but we don't have to be rods for that lightning.
And, in this season, I have to add that being thankful for every moment of every day is a great exercise too, one of the best.
Cecily Stoddard Stranahan is a psychotherapist, retired and an interfaith minister. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.