“The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.”
Michael Altshuler, Motivational Speaker
By: Annamarie Fuchs, Creator. Partners in Health | Conversations
December 3, 2020.
I read an article last month about a 91-year-old Red Deer Alberta man who cycled around the world on a stationary bike. That’s more than 40,000 kilometers and Harold Lehman did it while living in a retirement facility and over the span of only 2 years! That’s more than 1,600 km per month or… wait for it… 50 km per day. At 91-years-old. More recently, the Edmonton Journal showcased a 90-year-old woman who trains daily with weights, volunteers at a clothing store, and helps local charities. When she was 73 years old, Del Dickie appeared on TV in a bikini, having won her first body building competition. Her first! Then, in 2018 an 81-year-old woman earned a PhD from the University of Prince Edward Island. She had been the recipient of an honorary doctorate in 2000 for her work with seniors but went on to start graduate studies in 2009 and receive her PhD in Educational Studies with a focus on ageism and women nine years later. Achieving a PhD is no easy task at any age. Today Dr. Olive Bryanton is actively working for AgeWell, a national technology and aging network and posting regularly on Twitter (@ollie_pei). She calls herself a “visible member of the most invisible segment of our population.”
I read those articles while sitting on my butt. In my chair. At my desk. Sigh… I glanced at my Garmin fitness watch as it chirped happily that it was time to move. Good grief. The darned thing squawked at me only awhile ago and here it was, demanding that I get up and move again. So far that day I had managed to record about 1,600 steps (about 1.5 km) and the day was more than half over. We’re told we should try to walk at least 10,000 steps every day. Most days I get it done but not always. I’m a few decades younger than any of those remarkable people. I fancy myself a bit of a fitness buff and academic sans the PhD. Yikes! What’s my excuse?? Work? Family? Weather? Time? I’m an actively practicing healthcare consultant and author so there are days when I simply must be in this chair for longer periods of time then I’d like. But I could be more organized and less distracted, and I could find ways to give greater priority to certain parts of my life that matter to me. But first, I have to decide what really matters!
After reading the articles with mounting respect for the resolve of these three trail blazers, I started thinking about their approaches and whether they have been able to achieve balance in their lives. Harold Lehman lives in an assisted living facility. He chooses to be accountable for how he spends his day. And he continues to challenge himself. He bicycles only when he feels like it and tracks his progress in a notebook at the end of every day. Hm… balance appears to be a value of his. Del Dickie is maintains a high level of fitness as a means to accomplish her other passion – community outreach. She travels, volunteers, and accepts change as part of life. She recently discovered that wine has begun to cause indigestion, so she’s switched to gin and tonic! And as a self-proclaimed world’s greatest Oprah Winfrey fan, she embarked on an Alaskan cruise in 2018 with the actress, author, and philanthropist. Spontaneity is obviously important to her. And Dr. Byranton recognized that she could have a greater influence on government by identifying through her research, what programs and services would allow older women to remain in the communities they love. She clearly has a passion for supporting her demographic. And that passion continues to push her to socially connect, teach, consult, and tweet.
In her new book “Growing Young,” Mara Zaraska refers to the value of the ‘soft drivers’ of health which I believe are akin to achieving ‘balance’. Using your time to create a spirit of optimism, form and preserve happy relationships, and share kindness with others are examples of some of the soft drivers that can contribute to our likelihood of living to 100 or beyond. Like many people, I can get caught up in efforts to achieve work-life balance or longevity as I see it promoted in the media. We are barraged by pressure to maintain the right the number on the weigh scale or achieve our 10,000 steps, to post on social media about the latest designer eating plan we’ve embraced, ruminate about our muscle tone (or lack thereof), or seek validation about whether we look younger than our biological age. In our drive to achieve a narrow range of health or fitness goals we risk losing sight of what will enable us to achieve both joy and longevity. Zaraska goes on to emphasize that while diet and exercise are important, they are not as important as maintaining strong romantic relationships, enjoying a range of friendships, having a community spirit, and being kind. These traits contribute strongly to not only a long life but are strongly implicated in tangible measures of wellness such as good cardiovascular health, endurance, and more. I have a feeling that Harold Lehman, Del Dickie, and Olive Bryanton had many of those soft drivers figured out some time ago.