No one really knows why we age other than to acknowledge that as our cells die and don’t get replaced, organs – and ultimately our bodies – – do indeed die. The role that disease plays in this process is obvious – especially if there is no successful treatment available that can address the underlying causes of the problem. I believe in the “art of prevention” as a strategy for helping not only extend our lives – but also improving the quality of the time we have to live.
I did not come to this understanding in my early years because when we are young we assume we will “live forever”. It is only as we grow older and have to face the challenges of aging that we begin to appreciate the beauty and mystery of our own bodies – and what we “could” have done better along the way.
I decided that based upon my own experiences over the past 7 plus decades of life that we ARE in control of much of the aging process as we currently know it. I could assign a number to it (i.e. 80, 90%) but I would most likely be wrong. I will therefore ask instead what if we could control the “majority” of the outcomes we might face, then how would WE choose – and act – today to prevent problems in the future? When we REACT rather than RESPOND to life’s “urgings” we are always going to be “behind the curve” and face unintended consequences.
There are people who live to be hundred or more and then there are those of us who “die before their time”. How do we distinguish between being “lucky” and making good choices and does making thoughtful choices always work? I believe it does and this is why I thought I would share with you what I consider to be the three most important keys to healthy aging as I have lived them.
BEING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
From a purely practical standpoint this key is what I would call a “no-brainer”. I started life on Maui in the mid 1940’s (1946) and was introduced to swimming before I could even walk. I remember a man holding me by the stomach in a half empty pool teaching me to kick my legs and paddle my arms. That man became my future swim coach and his name was Mack Nakano – a former champion himself. He shared his passion and love for swimming that animated his own life and I have carried that love and passion for physical activity within me ever since those wonderful days of my boyhood on Maui.
As I grew and I moved on from swimming to other sports (because of circumstances beyond my control), I found I had formed a love for all forms of physical activity. I discovered other ways to enjoy being active when I was no longer competing and that main form of activity became running. As I adjusted to life on the mainland at Syracuse University in 1964, I began a running campaign that has stayed with me to the present day. I can’t imagine letting even one day go by without stressing my body in some form and even when I was injured as I was last year, I still found ways to train and remain active. This idea is a part of WHO I AM.
I have run over 65,000 miles in the more than half a century I have been a runner. I believe my commitment to being fit has saved my life many times over during my lifetime – even in the darkest of times when I felt lost and without hope. My question to you is: What is your passion when it comes to being physically active and will you honor that passion the way I did with my running program? If you don’t have one – then find one! Being physically fit does NOT guarantee a healthy body but a healthy body does require a FIT body. I am hopeful my “luck” continues into the years ahead. I will do everything in my power to insure that it does!
BECOMING A “CRITICAL THINKER”
This is my second choice for a key to healthy aging because the key to life IS thinking and the corresponding choices that we make leading to the actions that we take as a result. ALL thought is powerful but it is in HOW we CHOOSE to use these “power houses” of life that makes all the difference. With the fast paced changes that are occurring in all facets of life today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know “what to think”. I say that becoming “aware of our thoughts” is a key to healthy aging because they lead us to our potential choices and it is through our choosing that we can enhance our circumstances – or cause them to do us great harm.
An example of choice gone wrong would be the choice to smoke. We all know the dangers inherent in smoking – or taking drugs for that matter – but many of us do it anyway. My father started smoking during World War II as many service men and women did during that terrible conflict and as a result shortened their lives. My father died in November of 1983 at the age of 64 from cancer which had spread throughout his body but started in his lungs. I saw him the week before he died and it left an indelible impression on me. I was 37 at the time and I vowed to never go out like that. The past 35 years have been healthy ones for me because I cared about my future health and most importantly ACTED on that thought.
Deciding to become thoughtful and critically involved in our thoughts is an important part of the healthy aging process. Don’t “fall into” your choices – make them consciously and with the belief that you are doing what is right for you. People buy pills of all kinds sight unseen, and other potentially dangerous products online all the time “without thinking about the consequences” of their actions. I believe that we MUST “think before we leap”. It is the only sensible way to move forward in life and hopefully “cut the odds” in our favor so my advice is simple: Get in touch with your thoughts and act according to what they are allowing you to see and feel about yourself – and then choose wisely. This is the best any of us can do and it will insure WE are choosing our path in life – and not the other way around!
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
I am not religious and have never found comfort – or peace for that matter – in any conventional religion but I have found that the spiritual path is available to all of us who seek a different way. I found this path in 1985 through a minister at the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach by the name of Peggy Bassett. She introduced me to the principles that would guide my life and choices going forward and that have sustained me to this day 33 years later.
I believe in “quiet time” for myself (meditation and affirmative prayer work – a form of prayer that affirms rather than asks for something). Every day presents me with a new opportunity to get “in touch” with my “inner self”, providing me with the opportunity to receive guidance – and even wisdom – that may give me clarity or a new understanding of some aspect of my life that may be causing me pain or any other challenge I need to address in the present. I will respond only when I can “see my way clear” to a solution and only then will I act on this wisdom or guidance.
The role of the spiritual journey is to bring an expanded consciousness – or awareness – into our life experiences and allow us to contact joy, peace, harmony and love in a way that enriches and sustains us while allowing us the opportunity to “let go” of the baggage of our pasts. Regret, guilt, unexpressed anger, hatred and other forms of negative inner turmoil CAN and DO lead us to an early death. The body responds to all forms of emotion and if these emotions – and thoughts – are not directed by US to a “higher consciousness” they will bring sickness and chronic illness in all their terrible manifestations into our lives.
I have never been in a hospital, had surgery, taken drugs or medication, or had any outside medical intervention that I can recall – ever. I believe that through the spiritual path that Peggy me gave all those years ago – coupled with my ongoing efforts to remain healthy and fit – I thrived and DO wake up each day grateful and hopeful. I am “lucky” but this luck came to me because I ACTED on my BEST instincts – and intentions – at the time I was making crucial choices in my life. What will your choice be when it comes to letting go of “preconceived notions” of what you “think” is true so that you can finally live in the REAL truth of who you are – and are becoming?
I believe the world we live in today is “noisy”. There are too many voices and too little silence. I believe in being quiet and thinking and experiencing my life on more than just the superficial levels available in today’s world. I believe listening is becoming a lost art and that we are never going to “hear” anything of value arguing with another. Sometimes I feel as though I was not meant for this world and look back with fondness on the world as it was when I was a boy learning to swim and ultimately getting to know the me that I am today.
The keys to healthy aging are mine and mine alone. Whether others take what I have shared and “think about” them is for others to know. I believe that there is something greater and wiser than me that created me and is helping me to share what I have learned in my own unique way. This is my mission and this mission – or purpose – is always “on my mind”. I want it to be there constantly so that I may choose to support it in any way that I can in order to bring my life full circle from student to teacher – and back to student again.
What will you do with this information and how will your choices today affect your future? Only you will know but I will tell you that in “thoughtful living” we are ALWAYS rewarded by life with the best that it has to offer. Isn’t that worth your time and commitment? It is to me – and it is PRICELESS! Think about that!