It can take a health crisis to remind us that we have more control over our health than we may think … and then to take those steps to ensure we stay well for as long as we can.
Research¹ shows that globally, people are living longer, but not better. In fact, the gap between their longevity and their wellness averages 10 years. So, it is more important than ever that we recognise our own power in determining how we age.
My 82-year old father has always been an example of healthy ageing. As testimony to his physical resilience, he celebrated his 80th birthday by hiking the five-day Whale Trail in De Hoop Reserve along with his long-standing hiking buddies.
It was therefore a matter of concern for us that he has been experiencing a few months of feeling unwell. Despite urgings from his family members, he resisted attempts to get him to the doctor. Whatever the excuse, it was clear that he was nervous about what the doctor might discover.
Of course, the inevitable day arrived when the ongoing feeling of something “not right” overcame his reluctance, and he went for the necessary tests and booked his appointment with the doctor. He was subsequently referred to an oncologist and has had one consultation with her.
I expected to see a rise in my father’s anxiety. After all, his test results are not what we all hope for when we anxiously await results: a clear bill of health. His attitude, in fact, suggests relief, and therein lies the lesson.
Knowing where you stand – be it regarding your health, your finances, your job – is so empowering, even if it is not where you want to be. It’s far better than living in that limbo of uncertainty, imagining what the reality COULD be, or suppressing feelings of fear that find their way to the surface when the pressure is on. I liken it to a ball bobbing on the water – you can push it down underwater with as much force as you can apply, but it will shoot up somewhere else.
Secondly, the doctor to whom he was referred was just the right person. Factual in her approach, she was nevertheless empathetic and positive.
We all have a choice – to take control of our journey into ageing, or to abdicate, and hope that everything will just work itself out.
But a reality check is that, if you have reasonably good health up to age 65 or 70, you have dodged one of the chronic illnesses that often prove fatal: heart failure, stroke, lung disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
So, you may be looking forward to robust health for a good few years yet, and it becomes even more crucial that you take control of your health. You want to enjoy the next chapter, so don’t succumb to the notion that ageing equals ill health. Yes, there will be progressive problems as you age, and ultimately, some kind of disability and the need for care. But take control now to reduce the possibility of having to manage a chronic condition earlier than necessary.
Regular health checks, regular exercise and healthy eating are a given. Cut out smoking, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Forgive, yourself first, and then others and the world for not being perfect. And let go of what does not serve you and the world.
MD and author, Sam Harrington captures this in his recommendation: “Study and embrace aging and chronic illness. Take control of your final chapter. Be there when it happens.”
¹The Global Burden of Disease Study 2017