Boomer Unchained: Getting Healthy & Being a Better Person
I took an exercise class on January 2. Do I need to tell you the room was packed?
You couldn’t see the laminate floor for yoga mats of all colors – turquoise and hot pink being among the favorites – covering the room. We barely had space to spread our arms.
As I stepped back to avoid my hand hitting the hand of the person next to me, I realized I was in the middle of a New Year’s Resolution in action.
“Getting back in shape after the holidays,” + “focusing on being healthy,” = “to live longer and enjoy life as best I can.”
Aren’t gyms always packed in January?
In an unofficial survey, I asked several people if they make New Year’s Resolutions. Every single person included something along the lines of improving their health -- “I want to exercise more,” “…lose weight,” “…take care of my health,” “…meditate,” and “…manage my stress.”
Locally, friends of mine are starting barre classes, Tai Chi, yoga, aerial yoga, spin, and the MAX Challenge. While days were warmish at the beginning of January, many tried out the new bike trails that have carved through woods, wetlands, and replaced old rail lines. While maintaining healthy lifestyles is a goal that crosses generations, I’d say it’s a major focus for the aging population (There, I said it, “aging”).
Another concern associated with health for our generation is a fear of developing Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia. I think the fear of Alzheimer’s has even surpassed the fear of cancer because once you have it, there is no hope of getting better.
These days, so many of us have friends who have had cancer, received some kind of therapy, and have actually survived and had years of quality time. How many of us have had friends with breast cancer that appear to be doing really well? Even some people who have had strokes and heart attacks seem to have come through those events fantastically well. But once we know someone with a form of dementia, we know they are only going to get worse, and that worse is something we don’t want to experience. Though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, we are hearing about actions we can take that could either prevent this disease, or postpone it for who knows how long. I am not saying that a New Year’s Resolution is “I am going to prevent Alzheimer’s,” but that thought is in there with: “to live longer and enjoy life as best as I can.”
A friend of mine recently told me about a program introduced by the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation that is being described as something that could prevent Alzheimer’s. As a biomedical writer, I am always skeptical of anything that promises we can stop a disease from occurring. However, this Four Pillars * program is worth bringing up here because of its focus on healthy lifestyles. Its premise of focusing on our entire health, both physical and mental, is similar to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Beebe that has been shown to prevent heart disease, and to help people regain their health once they have experienced a serious heart episode.
The Four Pillars:
1. Diet (including necessary supplements)
2. Stress Management (yoga and meditation)
3. Exercise (physical and mental).
4. Spiritual Fitness (psychological wellbeing) complement what we already are doing to stay healthy as we age.
Another New Year’s Resolution, equally important, I think, to the health one, is “being a better person,” to ourselves and to others. We come across this resolve in so many ways, often when we are not happy with something we have said or done, or during a quiet conversation with a friend who says she wants to be a better listener, or to be more understanding of a family member going through a hard time. These days, with all the negativity around us, it seems it would help to focus on character traits such as honesty, integrity, and humility.
As hard as it is to stay on a diet or to exercise, I think that “being a better person,” is even harder to accomplish. Just as exercising and meditation takes practice, so does changing how we act and react in difficult situations, how to turn an angry reaction into one of patient understanding. I know there are study groups through churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of prayer, and that some businesses have training programs for employees and managers that include listening skills and conflict resolution, but I don’t know where else we can turn. We may learn breathing techniques and how to relax in a yoga class, but we don’t learn how to talk to someone when we are angry at them.
Personally, I have begun a Jewish spiritual journey called Mussar, defined as a path of character development and personal growth. It takes time, work, patience, and practice. That is my resolution this year, “to be a better person.”
Success in our endeavors is another subject. My son suggests we start small, and work toward a resolution a little at a time. His words are echoed by the Mussar Institute:
“….it is far better to accomplish a small step successfully and consistently rather than attempting a big leap, which you may or not make, and which can't be sustained.”
*study results of the Four Pillar program as found in the National Institutes of Health U.S National Library of Medicine