I've always said, a little blythely I admit, that I expect to live to 100. My mother said she would too and made it to 97. I can see that the genes are good and why not be optimistic? However, I also know that something could happen at any time, an accident, a health crisis. When we're younger we make our plans as though we're immortal, often a little impulsively. As we get older, there's an opportunity to look carefully at the future we want and create one that sustains us and meets our needs as far as we can foresee them. How can I live well through a long older age?
An excellent piece of advice I was given about aging is to plan for a long and active life and be prepared to move to Plan B if necessary. That is, be flexible, which is a challenge as time goes by and and we can get set in our ways.
Starting with the basics: planning to be healthy in mind and body is not as hard as it sounds. Generally speaking, what's good for the body is also good for the brain so keeping up a good exercise routine and eating a variety of natural food is a great foundation for health. Even if an illlness strikes, recovery will be better from a good health base.
Exercise is anything that gets the body moving, preferably something enjoyable so that it motivates us to keep it up. So many people relished the hour a day of exercise that we were allowed during Covid lockdown last year that the streets were filled with people of all ages walking and biking. Once we resumed our usual routine, many let go of the idea of regular exercise even while saying how much they missed it. Those of us who are retired or have reduced work hours have time to exercise every day once we prioritise and learn to love it. If I don't have my usual swims and walks my body feels stiff and I feel grumpy!
Healthy food is neatly defined by Michael Pollan: 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.' By 'food' he means what our grandparents would recognise as food rather than something made in a factory. I live alone and at times it's not very motivating to eat my own cooking day after day but I do make sure I create a proper meal, balancing the protein and vegetables I know I need. That and my daily exercise are my health insurance.
An important factor in well-being and one that has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia is social contact and in particular meeting new people. How lucky that most of us really enjoy meeting new people! At the very least a few words to a passing stranger, in a shop or a bus, can lift the spirits, while a cup of tea and conversation with someone close is heart-warming. It's a good reason to have activities that bring us into contact with the people in our community – book groups, volunteering, Menzsheds, church groups or events such as plays and concerts all offer great opportunities.
That's the type of planning that sets up a healthy routine. There are other types of planning. We're never too old to achieve something so don't be afraid of a challenge. Action planning means setting goals and asking how will I know when I've achieved my goal? What might get in the way? What is the cost of not achieving it? Who might help me?
Rewind planning is a strategy of starting with the goal and working backwards. Define the goal and note each prior step right down to the last one, which is the beginning – take that step!
If the goal is not so clearly defined that each step can be spelled out, intention planning is a creative way of letting a direction emerge. It may be a feeling I want to experience – to feel secure, content, or loving. I could visualise some symbols for that feeling, draw the images and put them where I see them often. The subconscious will develop the idea and create a clearer picture. For example, the feeling of security might emerge as financial security, which shift into action planning and budgetting, or it might be the security of being in close contact with friends and family. Realising that we feel safe and can relax when our relationships are in good order becomes motivation to pick up the phone and make contact.
Reaching any goal is an opportunity to celebrate the results!