Stop looking in a package of all natural specialty seeds from South America or an expensive, teeny-weeny jar of face cream. Instead, chat with active, healthy, happy people in their 80’s and 90’s and the true secrets will quickly be revealed.
I recently spent some time with a group of healthy, happy older adults in the kitchen as part of a food skills class. Over the course of the 6-week program, pretty much everything I’ve ever learned about food, nutrition and well-being was so very beautifully reinforced by these keeners. In each class, we cooked 5 recipes and shared the lunch meal we’d made together. Before we started cooking each week, we spent time discussing healthy living – much of which can be summed up with the letter F: food, fitness, fruit (and vegetables), fibre, good fats, fun, family, faith, friends, fresh air…
As we discussed current topics in nutrition ranging from ‘which is better, butter or margarine?’ to ‘should everything I buy be organic?’ we operated with the guiding principle of ‘reflect on the healthiest people you’ve ever known’ – especially anyone over 80 who everyone thinks is still in their 60’s. What are they doing to look and feel that youthful and healthy? We all agreed that it isn’t about whether or not they buy everything organic or only use coconut oil. Although genetics factor in, the group identified that the healthiest people they know have mastered one thing.
The coveted ‘secret’ they’ve mastered is: consistency! A lifelong commitment to consistently taking a few measures. Not because they have to but because they choose to. You’ve heard me speak about the boring subject of consistency before. It’s completely unsexy compared to a magnificently packaged, expensive food or skin care product emblazoned with amazing claims. Thing is, consistency truly works!
Consistency doesn’t even require an unobtainable long list of measures to take.
These are the 3 consistency secrets to healthy aging that these class participants so wonderfully demonstrated:
- An optimistic outlook. These keenagers, as you’d expect for anyone nearing 75 or older, have endured a lot. They’ve dealt with massive change over the years whether in technological advancements, all that comes physically and emotionally with raising a family, the immeasurable stress of losing loved ones, health scares at times, moving to new places, divorce, job changes or job loss, downsizing a home full of memories and SO MUCH more. Through it all, a lighthearted attitude of optimism kept them believing life is a precious gift they weren’t willing to give up on. Putting out into the world the kind of positive, helpful energy you hope to receive back also seemed to be a driving force for them. Being an active lifelong learner is key as well and is what led them to being in this cooking class. The course brought together 12 people who’d never met before. As the program ended, the group made plans for a potluck lunch at one of the participants’ homes as a fun get-together and what they hope will be the continuation of new friendships made over the 6-week program. It’s never too late to expand your circle of friends. I’ll be right in there with these very special new friends of mine!
- A lifetime of home-cooked meals of real food. One 89-year old class participant (who looks more like 70) shared that when she grew up of course there was no such thing as commercial fast food. Still, when her mother would see unexpected guests arriving in the farm-yard, it seemed to take her no time at all to quickly whip up a batch of fresh biscuits to serve with homegrown raspberry jam and a cup of tea. If the guests ended up staying for dinner, she recalled that it didn’t even take that long to prepare a chicken (one that started out roaming around the farm-yard earlier that day!) The food they ate was minimally processed, home-grown or sourced locally as much as possible and wasn’t heavily labeled and packaged in an attempt to convince you to buy it. Not that baking everything from scratch daily or rounding up a live chicken regularly is required to experience high level health and age gracefully. However, emphasizing wholesome, real food is. This trusting generation expressed how tricky and confusing grocery shopping has become. The store is far too big. They grew up believing what the butcher, the baker and their local grocer told them. They find it challenging to now navigate the barrage of ads and labels promoting pro-biotics, GMO-free, natural, etc. They also find it disheartening to learn how misleading many of these claims are and that they aren’t necessarily a guarantee of a healthy choice. They agreed that the closer foods remain to their natural state, the better. These folks have been ‘trendy’ their whole lives and didn’t even know it.
- Fresh Air. These people were outside a lot as kids and continue to live that way in their golden years. They weren’t just outside in the farm-yard but in walking to school, walking to friends’ houses, playing, skating, swimming in the lake, tinkering around in the yard, etc. There’s space outside and that allows for running, jumping and moving further and more freely than when inside. Exercise was never a prescriptive, scheduled task, but simply a normal, fun part of daily life. These seniors, although now mostly living in urban settings, still get out daily or at least regularly for walks and other active pursuits. They’re living proof of the value of fresh air!
In aging healthfully, enjoying a variety of wholesome, real food matters. If part of that variety includes eating rare, rainforest-grown berries, do it because you can access them and you love the taste. If you can also access expensive mineral-rich skin cream and like using it, why not do so? I might try both too. But, above it all, I’m putting MUCH MORE stock into the 3-point graceful aging plan that healthy seniors are absolutely inspiring living proof of!
I’m so grateful to have had the chance to work with this group and be a student of their wisdom and experience!