Be Well, Marsha 11/17/15

The slower seasons

By Marsha Bonhart

I have a friend whom I adore. I don’t always understand her, but she’s my friend, regardless. Isn’t that how real friendship works? I accept her quirks with a shoulder shrug, but there is one subject upon which I draw the line and which I just cannot discuss with her. She is struggling with getting older. I, however, am grateful to be getting there because it certainly beats the alternative. The aging process, as one of my octogenarian friends tells me—and I agree—is not for the faint of heart, but as long as my heart is still fainting and not stopping, I can handle advancing years.
I have accepted aging as part of living. When you are born, you immediately start getting older. Now, it seems to be happening a lot quicker and the physical changes can’t be denied. It’s not an issue with weight—it’s gravity. It’s the laugh lines, the thinning gray hair that has a different texture and a mind of its own. That’s the aesthetics. Changes in cell and organ function take a different, slower pace, but they can lead to disorders that develop when we get older. Age-related medical problems like bone loss and stiffening blood vessels are real health issues and take years to take effect when you don’t even realize what’s going on.
Bone thinning makes the skeleton that supports us weaker and easier to break. The process speeds up after the age of fifty and a condition called osteoporosis can develop and they become more fragile. Smoking and drinking alcohol excessively make it worse; lack of exercise and a slow down in getting enough calcium exacerbates it as well. Cortisone, like drugs and some cholesterol lowering meds, also accelerates bone loss. But we know that regular activity—walking, swimming, lifting weights—can keep bones stronger, longer.
I have always known I was a hair short of measuring six feet. The last physical showed I have dropped 1/4 inch. I’m getting shorter. We all shrink as we get older, and if we are lucky enough to last until we are 80, more than likely we have lost a couple of inches by then. Muscles get weaker, we lose water, the spongy disks that separate the vertebrae in our backbone deteriorate and that compresses the spine, causing you to shrink. What is even more interesting to me is when we are little kids, for the most part, we are all the same physically, barring disease or injury. But when we get older—not old, just older—our physical similarities compared to our peers change. But, when you think about getting to the 40s and 50s, all that we have done compiles to impact our health—good or bad. In fact, some doctors will remind you that what you do in your growing-up years to your 20s and 30s will definitely affect you in your mature years. No one has figured out how and why our bodies age, but what scientists do know is the actual chronology has nothing to do with the biology of aging or the rate of its process. Dayton pediatrician, Alonzo Patterson says any more, outliving diabetes and high blood pressure is a challenge.
What your family passes on to you genetically plays a critical role in your aging health. If you have relatives who live into their 90s, it doesn’t mean you will too if you don’t take care of your body in the process. According to How it Works, exposure to harmful chemicals or infectious diseases plays hard and fast roles, as does nutrition.
All of this reminds me of an email passed around by friends a couple of years ago. Parts of it are humorous, but all of it reminds us about approaching the “winter season” of life. Some of it reads: “I enter this new season of my life unprepared for the aches and pains and the loss of strength and ability to do things that I wish I had done but never did. At least I know that though the winter has come and I am not sure how long it will last, this I know, when it’s over on this earth—it’s over and a new adventure will begin.”
The emailed continued: “there are things I wish I had not done and things I should have done, but there are things I am happy to have done. It’s all in a lifetime.”
So if you are not in your winter, yet, let me remind you that it will be here faster than you think. Whatever you would like to accomplish in life, please do it quickly, don’t put it off too long—do what you can today, because you will never know if this is your winter. You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life. Live for today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember and hope they appreciate and love you for all the things you have done for them. Life is a gift. The way you live it is your gift to those who come after, so live it well and remember, it is health that is the real wealth. When your freckles become liver spots and the three sizes in your closet only mean you can wear one size, and it’s the largest, just know the beauty of it is you are able to complain about it. Remember, when you are blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, they only remind you how much time has bean spent, it reveals nothing about the quality of your health.

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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