In response to MG’s blog of a few weeks ago, which, in turn, was a response to a WordPress writing challenge, I have been reflecting on this topic in my own tardy manner. MG maybe expected just a comment but I think the question deserved an entry in my own blog. Good health is the cornerstone for enjoying life – without good health, life is more of a struggle, where coping takes precedence and enjoyment is measured in tiny successes (the “good” days). Beyond a few broken bones and the occasional minor ailment, I have had a remarkably healthy life. So I speak from some ignorance of any form of physical limitation. I cannot imagine, or don’t want to imagine, my life being dictated by any sort of health problem. If I experienced some trauma or developed a condition that restricted my activity, I hope that I would be able to meet the challenge head on. But the thought of every decision or activity being coloured by limitation is terrifying right now. I have been blessed, so far, with a strong, normal, healthy body. For this reason, I will work like hell to retain, if not improve, my fitness so as to stay healthy for as long as possible or at least forestall my descent into decrepitude. So far, so good. I am in my mid-sixties and am in better shape than I was 20 years ago, due in no small part to retirement and my circle of friends. More on that later.
To me, good health means being able to enjoy whatever physical activity I choose to participate in. But how is it that I have been able to have a healthy body all these years and why can’t everybody? Lord knows that I eat more than my share of meat and junk food, enjoy other non-recommended treats – both liquid and solid – and, as a result, have more pounds on my frame than I would like. But, so far, no medical problems. Hell, my doctor once said that I have the blood pressure of a teenager. Good health, judging by my own life experience, is a result of a combination of many factors, chiefly genes, attitude, and – most importantly, I think – luck.
Genes: I certainly have the genes – my mother, and most of her large family, lived well into their nineties. My dad smoked himself to an early death, but that was fairly common, I think, for the males of the greatest generation. (Thankfully, society now recognizes the scourge of nicotine addiction and is trying to eradicate or, at least, minimize it. I don’t care if the methods are by laws or humiliation, that disgusting dependency needs to be ended.) There is nothing you can do about your genes. Blame your parents if you want to but that part of health is pretty well outside your control.
Attitude: This is the part that is all under your control. Well, mostly anyway. I know that I need no extra motivation to be active. I actually like going to the gym and working out or pushing hard on my bike! I’m not sure where that came from. Neither of my parents were particularly active or even sports fans, so affinity for working up a sweat isn’t genetic for me but it is certainly part of my makeup. Maybe I’m just addicted to endorphins. Whatever, it works for me. I can’t remember any part of my life where I wasn’t active in a sport of some kind, organized or not. Hockey, baseball, football, soccer, wrestling, broomball, squash, racquetball, tae kwon do, skiing (downhill and x-country), cycling, running… I’ve done them all at one time or another and continue with some even now (skiing, cycling, squash). Some not very well, mind you, but that’s not the point. Not having to force myself to be active is a blessing but it is still a conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone. That pushing, I believe, is where the most progress occurs in upping the fitness level.
Luck: The overriding factor of all, in my opinion. I don’t care how good your genes are or how much you like to sweat or compete or how fit you are at the moment, life is capricious and sometimes bad shit (I’m sure that is a medical term) just happens. An accident or illness can blindside anybody and totally disrupt a life. I don’t know how many times during my life that I have been this close to seriously incapacitating myself, or worse, by some ill-advised venture or just fluke of fate. But luck was on my side and I escaped unscathed. Luck is partially under our control – all of us have been told not to push it for a reason – but also at the whim of nature. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, through no fault of your own, it’s often sayonara. Control, or at least mitigate, whatever situations you can and hope that the fickle finger stays furled.
I firmly believe that being physically active is an absolute necessity to maintain health. I have friends in my seniors ski club that are well into their 80’s and still skiing at a high level, comfortably doing double black runs at the mountain resorts. And in summer they bike, not because they feel they have to but because they enjoy it! And with the enthusiasm of a teenager! What I hear from them all the time is “use it or lose it”. It may be an overworked expression but it is very true. But it is more than that – you actually have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise activity just becomes obligatory drudgery. I joined the seniors ski club in my late 50’s, after I retired. And I echo the same sentiment that I have heard from many of the members, that it was the best thing I could have done after giving up the working life. It not only offered me a diverse social group of interesting, active people but it also shattered my preconceptions of what it meant to age. Having a supportive social circle of slightly (some more than others) competitive, physically active people is an important part of maintaining health. Solo workouts are fine but I find the group rides and skiing with friends much more enjoyable. One should always be able to smile when sweating! I intend to continue being active, and pushing my abilities, for as long as my body holds out.