Coming in from a day’s sailing I’m often asked “How do you do it”, particularly if it has been a rough day. I’m the oldest active sailor in the club and whilst I rarely win, I can still be competitive. My answer is always the same: “I’ve been lucky, lucky to have some good genes but I have also looked after my health with a good diet and healthy activities”. I discovered sailing in my 30s when I had taken on a job which stretched me to the limit and beyond. I was enjoying the work but became very stressed and it was affecting my health. I had taught myself to sail a few years earlier and had developed enough skill to go out in strong wind. After a weekend regatta sailed close to the limit, I went to work on the Monday invigorated: no digestion problems, no headache, no tiredness just plenty of energy. It was a tonic which worked regularly. Sailing demands a focused mind, there is no room for thoughts about all those stressful problems waiting in the office. My brand of sailing is also much more energetic than most people would imagine. The stronger the wind the more energy and the more focus is required. I’m sure there are many other activities which have the same characteristics combining physical fitness and mental acuity, providing similar de- stressing qualities. For me the discovery was a life changer. No more health tests and investigations, just go sailing.
I’m convinced the foundations of a healthy retirement are laid early when retirement is still a distant prospect. When we are heads down working hard at our careers and responding to all the demands of the family is the time when we should be looking after our own mind and body. Just as you can’t fatten a pig on market day, switching to a healthy lifestyle at retirement could be too late.
It's so easy to get involved the big business lunches and work so hard and late that there’s no time for exercise. Add in the family wanting taking here there and everywhere and it’s a recipe for disaster. Over weight and an under exercised cardio vascular system are not a good start to a long and healthy retirement. I sometimes think it’s like looking after an old truck. If it’s been regularly overloaded and poorly maintained it’s not going to last long without some replacement parts and there’s only so much you can do.
The health of older people is big business which is not surprising given the developed world’s ageing demographic. Google has worked out how old I am and makes sure it is offering me wonder cures at every opportunity. There’s a mountain of advice on the internet all pretending to be the advice of doctors who always seem to be wearing a white coat. Our chemist wears a white coat but our doctor never. In fact, I don’t think I have ever had a doctor who wore a white coat. White coated doctors offering advice are a red flag to me. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is a major problem because there’s some good information amongst the rubbish. Sources such as the major hospitals and Universities are usually reliable. There’s nothing like a good family doctor to keep us on track but they are not as easy to find or as accessible as they used to be.
It's not just physical health we have to worry about. As we age our mental attitudes change and that is not so easily addressed. I remember observing my father losing confidence in himself and becoming more anxious. That probably lead to a degree of intolerance which was totally out of character. I’ve since observed similar things in other older people. A good friend who had been sailing all his life winning many championships on the way became so nervous of taking his boat out that it made him physically sick. Not surprising that he decided to give up the very thing that kept him going. He was a very fit 80 years old undone by a mental issue he could not defeat.
Older people are nervous crossing the road partly because they can’t move very quickly if they need to, but I’m sure it’s much more a lack of confidence in decision making. I am conscious of some of these things creeping into my life. I have taken on some enormous and difficult projects in my working life and seen them through to completion as a matter of course. Now I find even organising some coaching for a small group of sailors has me worrying. Will they turn up? Will the weather be good? Will we have enough coaches? It’s trivial but it worries me. Maybe I just don’t have enough to worry about. A search of the internet confirmed that my observations are correct. It is a recognised problem and can impact physical health but it can be treated.
In recent years there has been an increased focus on mental health in our society from youth suicide to the mental health of our military returning from active duty. As we age, we need to be just as conscious of our own mental health as we are of our physical well-being.
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