A client of mine recently asked me something that really bothered him. He wanted to know why his elderly mother discussed her health in such detail all the time, and why like a hypochondriac she would become concerned if she exhibited symptoms from someone else’s illness that she heard about.
Despite his concerns, it’s rather common for seniors in their 80s, like his mother, to be obsessed with their health. My basic advice was to do several things:
1) Imagine what it’s like for her. Many of her friends have health issues; some are no longer here. So it is something that will be fresh on her mind often.
2) Be a good listener. Sometimes folks need to say what they feel. Listen, even if they’re repeating the same thing they told you two days before.
3) Offer a ray of hope. A little physical activity can do wonders for the mind and the body.
I decided to write about this because his situation is by no means isolated. Many of us can fully relate to his situation and his mother’s. Understanding can go a long way. I’ve written about the benefits of exercise and physical activity many times over the years, but the most effective times have always been when it’s a situation we can connect to.
Encouraging a positive way to handle health concerns can be healing. Start with walks, even if they’re short distances. Aim for outdoor places like local parks, or around your neighborhood. In addition to getting your heart rate up and getting some vitamin D from the sun and wind on your face, walks also tend to be cathartic. If you or your loved one is stressed, walks can de-stress situations. Doing a little cardio at your gym or home on a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike can also be very useful. The exercise will increase endorphins, triggering “feel-good” positive vibes often needed during stressful times.
Getting to fully understand the illness concerns of your loved one can also be very helpful. High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, heart health, dementia, memory loss, and arthritis are all ailments many folks suffer with. They are all also illnesses that can be helped with exercise.
Regular exercise can lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. It can improve heart function, memory, and dementia conditions as well. The aging process is a normal part of life. T.S. Eliot once said “I don’t believe one grows older. I think that what happens early on in life is that at a certain age one stands still and stagnates.”
It’s a mandate on how we should live our life. If we take precautions to minimize illness and stay active, Eliot’s graceful quote won’t be mere words. They will be a personification of how we live and how we stay young.
If you keep the same circle of friends throughout your life as my client’s mom did, some will develop illnesses, some won’t, and some you will out survive. It’s the natural circle of life. But living in fear, having your health deteriorate, sometimes significantly, and looking for the next health problem you may have, is not a way to live your life. Quality of life is always the goal no matter our age.
Keeping your nutrition in check is also important. A healthy diet can account for 70 to 80 percent of our daily health, with the remaining 20 to 30 percent being handled with regular exercise. It can be expensive to not eat healthy. Imagine the number of illnesses you could get from unhealthy eating: processed foods, foods high in sodium and sugar, deep fried foods, etc. It’s one of the leading causes of Type II diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart illnesses. These illnesses can lead to strokes and heart attacks. So the more control we have over them the better.
Planning exercise time is also important. Most people fail in their exercise goals because they do not plan it out or schedule it like an appointment. They make it more something they’ll get to in a freestyle kind of way. The truth of the matter is that being loose about exercise is a master recipe for failing. It’s what I like to call “The Human Nature trait”. When we have an actual appointment, by nature we’re more likely to keep it and think of it as something important.
Our health is always just as important as anything else in our lives. It’s something that bears reminding, because many of us tend to forget that. As Anne Wilson Schaef once said, “Good health is not something we can buy. However, it can be an extremely valuable savings account.”
Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model agent. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com.