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I don’t think my grandfather, Inocencio, ever stood taller than about five feet six inches, but he cast a great shadow when he died suddenly at 99 years old. I say suddenly because although he was 99, Inocencio was ageless, to me. He wore ankle cowboy boots, the kind with shiny leather, just because he loved them and he wore the things he loved. He had many skills and he used them all. I once watched him turn a length of black nylon rope into a lariat that he then swung through the air, successfully catching some wild sheep. He had been a farmer by trade but he also played the tambourine in church, adored pan dulce pastries, and shared detailed stories. He bragged about jogging and passing up runners a third his age. Once a year he journeyed via greyhound bus from his little house in Weslaco, Texas across state lines to visit his family in California. This he did well into his nineties. And then, in his own words, he woke up on a Thursday morning and felt like all of his strength had abandoned his body. The next day he passed away peacefully in his home, surrounded by his wife, two of his sons and a handful of dear friends, leaving behind a gaping hole in our hearts.
September is Healthy Aging Month, a month long celebration of growing older, and a time to self-evaluate and plan for personal growth. Carolyn Worthington, editor in chief of Healthy Aging Magazine created the annual month-long observance to celebrate the positive aspects of aging. When I consider healthy aging, I’m reminded of Inocencio. He could not prevent the physical wrinkles on his skin or the gradually thinning hair on his head. In his head and his heart, though, he was living out his best years. He believed there was still work to be completed, adventures to blaze, stories to regale, and skills to learn. Inocencio had no time for old age, he was just too busy living.
There are many socially constructed beliefs regarding aging. We assume elderly people must wear frumpy oversized clothing. Senior centers host bingo night and other sedentary activities because we believe old people will automatically become frail and immobile. Once children grow up and leave home we label those couples as “empty nesters” because we believe that homes are somehow incomplete without children living there. I challenge you to question why we as a society have imposed these rules on ourselves. Maybe you need to wear clothing that is easier to put on and take off because of joint pain or limited range of motion. That doesn’t necessarily translate to you rushing out to buy orthopedic Velcro sneakers and a pair of baggy elastic-waist slacks. There are hundreds of options. Like Inocencio, you don’t have to sacrifice the things you love simply because you are growing older. A comfy pair of shoes doesn’t need to be frumpy, and a fun night out can still include dancing, or karaoke, or whatever activities you love. We can adjust the way we do things but we don’t need to stop doing the things we love. Healthy Aging Month encourages adults age 45 and older to reflect on improving not just their physical wellness, but also social, financial and mental wellness. Aging is not a one-size-fits-all process. It’s never too late, or too early, to make lifestyle changes that enhance the quality of our life. The benefit to aging is that you’ve accumulated a wealth of life experiences, memories and knowledge. You’ve learned the hard lessons. How can you benefit from them now? This month let’s embrace our age and be open to opportunities that promote health and vitality while still remaining true to who we are as individuals. Evelyn Greenslade from the movie “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” says it best: “How many new lives can we have? As many as we like.”
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.