We learn fear. We are not born being afraid. Experiences cause us to be afraid. Remember when you were in your late teens and twenties? You felt invincible and were not afraid to do anything or to try new things. Now in your thirties and forties, you say you are more sensible about things. A description of more sensible can mean many things. Perhaps you no longer water or snow ski because you had a bad fall. Or maybe you don't go out alone at night because you were frightened by a stranger.
It is these little events that keep happening throughout our lives that cause fear. Many say that fear is in the mind, I agree, but it is also very real for many of us. Even I have become more sensible over the years. Things I would go out and do on my own, like hiking in the mountains, I now make sure someone knows where I have gone in case I return late or not at all or I do activities with a friend. Wilderness is beautiful but it can also be deadly. We had a neighbor who had a heart attack 15 miles from a small town, could not get to medical help quickly enough and died in the car.
Because of the work I do with the elderly, I am an advocate for healthy living including exercise and eating right. Many of us take the ability to move, to stand up from a chair or walk a block for granted. Many Americans are overweight and fail to correlate weight with poor health. Overweight individuals are more likely to experience heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and many other chronic diseases. One could say that I have seen this happen to so many people that I am afraid of it happening to myself. I like to say I am sensible.
I want to be able to do whatever I want physically and mentally when I'm in my 70's, 80's and 90's (assuming I live that long). So many people look forward to retirement and then have health issues that make it impossible to do all the things they have dreamed about for years. Many older people become afraid. Afraid to exert themselves physically because they've fallen or had an accident, less physical exertion continues to result in being less physically able to care for themselves. So they no longer leave the house. This results in isolation, which means that less interaction with others results in cognitive decline.
We need to fight fear, especially as we age so that we can live physically and cognitively able lives. We also need to be sensible about taking care of our bodies. Eating right, exercising and maintaining a good weight. These are choices that many do not make. I hear constantly that friends have no time to exercise. It is not that a person does not have time to exercise; the reality is that exercise is not a priority. I have been very fortunate that exercise over the years has become a habit. If I fail to exercise I miss it. I see the effect on my stamina, my mood and my sleep patterns. For me it makes a significant difference. And even more significant, it allows me to do whatever I want in the way of physical activity, hiking, yard work, activities with friends etc.
We make time for things that are important to us. How many of us go to work everyday? Realize it or not, work is a choice we make. Eating or overeating is also a choice. That piece of chocolate cake looks so good even though it equates to sixty minutes exercise on a stair master. Think of all the money we could save on clothing, if we maintained our weight throughout our lives.
Sometimes, none of this comes to light until we have a family member or a friend who is affected by a health issue or accident. Then it becomes reality. We realize we're not immortal, not invincible, and a slight bit of fear may ensue. In this case, fear can be a motivator to change our lives to be healthier to be more responsible.
This motivation to improve can greatly improve the rest of our lives. It can ensure that we do not end up in a nursing home because of multiple health issues. It can ensure we enjoy our retirement years the way we intended. It can ensure that we don't live with fear about aging.
Pamela D. Wilson, specializes in long term care planning and education for older adults. Contact her at The Care Navigator or visit The Care Navigator Blog for free information