INSIDE OUT

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Last week, the Inside Out art project came to my town. Their truck rolled up in front of the library and we, local residents let them take 4’ by 3’, black and white photos of us. These were then pasted on the walkways in front of the library. I was amazed at the diversity of faces. Our art statement didn’t last long as it rained the following day and all became a gray mush. It was a great reminder, though, of the brevity of our lives. That is why it is so important to shine while our light still flickers!

Recently, I spoke to a group on Alzheimer’s. Since all had been (or were), caregivers, I assumed they would ask questions about the disease and its’ progression. Instead, I faced a room full of people terrified that it might happen to them! In fact, one perfectly, healthy woman was actually taking an Alzheimer’s medication in hopes of preventing it before it started!

Considering that 1 million people will have dementia in some form by 2025, their concerns are valid. So, here’s what we know so far: there is NO cure or drug that can really help yet. No. Nothing–so don’t fall for those TV commercials. However, here are a few things we DO know that will give you the best prevention possible:

  1. Smoking increases your dementia risk 30-50%.
  2. Drinking one Coke a day ups your risk by 30%.
  3. Although few of my readers likely play football–watch for blows to the head—they cause inflammation to the nervous system and increase the tau proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
  4. Keep your blood pressure low.
  5. Playing a musical instrument lowers your risk by 36%. Taking up the harmonica can’t hurt.
  6. Yeah get off your butt—stub out your butt—and no more ifs ands or buts. THIS is the MOST important one!  

 Here’s the mystery of life: the things we plan for rarely happen and the ones we don’t expect often smack us right between the eyes. Considering that 24% of boys born today and 35% of girls will eventually develop dementia, starting healthy behaviors now will have a more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Plus, if you wanna see your face plastered up real big, track down the Inside Out Project! Smiling increases longevity and makes you feel good inside and out!

 

 

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TOUCHDOWN

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You may find this hard to believe but I just saw my very, first, live, professional football game! The last time I sat in the bleachers was in 1974, during a first date in college. However, by halftime, I told the guy that I’d had enough. (It was also our last date). As for Super bowl parties? I never attended them unless coerced and even then spent every conceivable second in the kitchen or outside listening to the leaves rustle. Anything was better than watching all those big guys run after a ball that I couldn’t even see and then jump on top of each other so hard that it made me wince.

 Until last week I had no clue how the game even worked. So, let me tell you what I learned after just one match: Football is a perfect metaphor for Life.

  1. Once the whistle blows, you only have so much time left.
  2. When you have the ball, you’re always heading for the ‘end zone.’
  3. If you get caught holding the ball, you’ll be sorry.
  4. As you inch towards your goal, some folks will knock themselves out helping you get there. Others will flatten you like a pancake.
  5. There’s always somebody faster, bigger, stronger and younger gaining on you.
  6. If you’re outflanked, you pass the ball to someone else and hope they don’t fumble.
  7. You can play an entire game and never touch the ball once.
  8. You can actually knock people over on purpose and jump right on top of them, if it’s done just so.
  9. You can’t hold on to someone—no matter how much you want to—if they’re not actually holding the ball.
  10. It all starts with a coin toss.

If you can’t play, you can always sit on the sidelines and bark orders at the guys on the field, like the crazed fan behind me did the entire game.  As it happens, I was there to watch a young man I know realize his dream to play in the NFL. Now, the only thing better than chasing your own dreams is watching someone else bring theirs to life. That’s a thrill in itself! My friend played well and as his teammates slapped his butt and gripped his helmet with congratulations, it reminded me of one, more thing:   you don’t do any of it by yourself. Nope, not one, single, solitary yard. Like football, life is a team sport.      

 

 

 

 

ONE CLICK AWAY!

 

baby owlPhotos:  Dan Weisz

Did you know that just three minutes of contact with nature not only reduces your stress, anger and fear but also increases your positive feelings?  That’s about how long it takes me to walk outside and snap a photo of the clouds. Looking up literally lifts my spirits. At present, I have some 1,600 pictures of the sky and so far have not yet tired of the habit. Neither has my neighbor, whom I’ve not met but know I will like. He is a professional photographer who captures the birds and animals in our desert habitat and shares them online with the neighborhood. Recently, I told him that I had discovered an owl nest nearby, so he went, camera in hand, and captured the owlets with their mom.

 mom and babe

Science has proven that hospital patients who have a view of a landscape outside their window recover faster and students who can see countryside from their classrooms learn better. Even workers who can see the outdoors get tasks done faster than people in windowless offices. Diet and exercise are important but we are profoundly affected by our environments. Want joy and inner calm? Open the curtains, paint the room a pretty pastel and add a green plant or bouquet of flowers.

Last Sunday night, 60 minutes ran a spectacular story on nature photographer, Thomas Mangelsen. At the end of the piece, he is shown with Dr. Jane Goodall, now 84, as they watch Sandhill cranes migrate along the Platte River in Nebraska. She has joined him on this adventure for the last 20-some years. There is something transcendent about people who love nature and animals.  While both are in the autumn of their lives, they look as radiant as springtime. 

 There is nothing more life giving and sustaining than Nature itself. No worldly accolade or amount of money can touch the splendor and magnificence of a waterfall, a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower or a child emerging from its’ mother.  If you treasure the world through which you walk, you will hold even more precious those who walk beside you. So, grab your camera or phone, look for a beautiful moment around you and click. Or, simply enjoy these photos and appreciate the sensitivity and patience behind them.  Happy Mothers’ Day!!

baby mom kiss

 

MY INSPIRATIONS

94Recently, a young man came backstage to chat with me after a performance. As he left, he suddenly gushed, “Ms. Hudson, this was great. I just love talking to old people!” While the others around me were a bit shocked, I was quite tickled and replied, “Well, Jason, I just love talking to young ones!”

 Growing up, my grandmother was always my greatest inspiration. She was drinking carrot juice and doing yoga long ahead of her time. One afternoon, when she was 70 and I was 17, she suddenly appeared in the kitchen wearing tap shoes. I’d been moping around the house and knew that she was trying to cheer me up.  She began to hop-step-flap-ball change her way through a very, nifty, ‘time step.’  That vision of her with her gray ponytail bouncing up and down still makes me smile.

As a kid I looked up to older people and sought them out for advice. Now that I am the ‘older’ person, there are a lot fewer ahead of me than there used to be. Nevertheless, I still look to them for both encouragement and hope. Here are just some of the inspirations in my life right now: a 94 year-old with the figure of a teenager who chats everyone up while sipping her iced chai latte and grocery shopping; an 80 year-old who took up daily workouts for the first time ever after her husband passed away and a 70-something couple who only recently found each other and are now inseparable.

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Recently, I had the happy fortune of spending the weekend with three, young couples. One has just had their first child. The other is expecting their first and the latter are engaged to marry. It was déjà vu as I, too, once walked those very roads. I marveled at their energy and fresh faces despite sleepless nights. I was hugely impressed by the equality with which all three seem to navigate their relationships. Mostly, I just gasped at how quickly I went from their age to mine.  At the end of the weekend, one of them told me that I was, ‘an inspiration’ to him because of my energy and enthusiasm for life.  At first, I was surprised but then very grateful. For his compliment is now a great motivation to keep me charging forward with a big smile on my face!!

SURPRISE!!!

Broken Chair

Last week, one of my tennis partners and I found ourselves in a heart to heart talk about aging. Her husband recently had a stroke and can’t speak. She is his fulltime caregiver. “There are so many years behind me,” she said sadly, “and so much fewer ahead.”  So true.

 A few days later, a friend confided, “Aging is hard. I never knew it would be this hard. Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength for it.” She just got out of the hospital after what she thought was a routine bronchitis, which she’d had before. This time, she couldn’t shake it alone.

 Another emailed after taking a cruise to say that he had, “really wanted to hike through Europe” but feared his legs might not hold him up. Instead, he “saw it mostly through my cabin window.” Still another told me that she is, “terrified of falling.   I’ve put night-lights every six feet in my house. If I fall again, I’m dead. That’s it.” She recently had a hip replaced and the recovery took almost a year.

 I could chalk my friends off as being ‘alarmists’ or ‘overly pessimistic,’ but they echo my own sentiments. I, too, have set myself a daily routine to maximize safety and minimize stress. I swim, but only so far, so as not to overtax my shoulders. I walk, but avoid hills, so as not to overstress my knees. I eat healthy, nap, meditate, do mild yoga, read enlightening books and practice music daily to keep my synapses sharp.

 However, all of this moderation only carries one so far. There is no accounting for the surprises that life can throw your way. This afternoon, I made a salad and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine. As I sat down on the chair, the seat underneath me gave way. Not only did I jolt my joints but my lovely salad spread itself all over the pavement.

 Apparently, there’s good reason for all of us to take extra precautions. Right now, the accidental death rate is up 12% in the US. Why? Falls among the elderly and drug overdoses. Shakespeare, describing impending death in Hamlet said this: “And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” For now, I’ve decided to appreciate those ‘shocks.’ It means that I’m still here to tell you about them.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

THE SKINNY ON FAT

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 15 years ago, my doctor put me on a low fat diet because my cholesterol was high. I followed it for a good 12 years, just long enough to watch my hair thin, my fuse shorten and my memory fuzz. It barely put a dent in my cholesterol, although my good cholesterol dropped and my bad zoomed skywards.

 In the last 30 years, Americans have lowered their fat intake by 10% yet obesity has doubled and heart disease remains the #1 killer! Due to a flawed study in the 70’s, (which did not take into account, smoking, carbohydrate intake and exercise), we were led to believe that high fat cholesterol foods are bad for us. Not true.

 Science has now discovered:

  1. DHA & EPA, the 2 omega-3 fatty acids in fish—are more effective than psychotherapy and antidepressants in treating depression.
  2. The fats in fish can improve symptoms of ADHD in children.
  3. Omega-3’s have been found to reduce acts of aggression among prisoners.
  4. The National Institute of Health found that members of the US military with the lowest omega-3 levels also have the highest risk of committing suicide.
  5. Your brain is 60% fat and needs cholesterol to function well! People who eat more saturated fat reduce their rate for developing dementia by 36%.
  6. Healthy saturated fat reduces inflammation and encourages the liver to dump its’ own fat cells which makes it function more effectively.
  7. Saturated fatty acids, especially those found in butter and coconut, help white blood cells to recognize and destroy invading viruses and bacteria.
  8. Eating fat, particularly avocadoes, regulates the production of sex hormones, helps to repair tissue, preserves muscle and improves sexual function.
  9. Polyunsaturated fats, which the body can’t make, are essential for normal body functions. They reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and raise the good HDL.

 According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating good quality high-fat foods will prevent the rising epidemic of Type 2 diabetes and reverse the growing numbers of people suffering weight-related heart problems. If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: 46,835 women were instructed to eat a low-fat diet. After 8 years, there was only a 1-pound difference in weight from their fat-eating sisters and there was ZERO difference in their heart disease, cancer or death rates. So, excuse me while I go munch my macadamias.

 

REALITY CHECK

 

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This is where I found myself last week, registering for Medicare. Yes, that program for OLD people; the one my grandmother was on for as long as I can remember. The whole process felt like a dream that someone—anyone–else should be doing but me. And yet? Here is where I find myself: almost 65. It’s not that I don’t own the years. I just can’t quite come to grips with the fact that now they own me.

 If you look at the statistics—and I do—they are sobering: 63% of folks over 65 are in need of long-term care. The probability of my becoming disabled or cognitively impaired is 68%. Finally there is this: 69% of us will develop disabilities before we die and 35% of us will enter a nursing home! ‘Not me,’ I can hear you saying. Well, I’m saying it, too, but talk is cheap.

 It’s hard enough to face one’s own mortality without having to sign on the dotted line about it. I also have to, “Choose a plan from A to N.” What that really means is: do I pick the Pollyanna plan which says that I’m healthy, will live forever and nothing bad will ever happen to me? Or, do I pick the plan that has me covered if I break every bone in my body, contract cancer and have only 6 weeks to live?

 In times like these, I often refer to the wisdom of noted neurologist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a book that I read in my youth and one which speaks to me still.       

 “The pessimist observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. The optimist removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it carefully away. He reflects with pride and joy on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What does it matter to him that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.”

 Ah, clearly I should face this new reality with the spirit of possibility and carry on.   N’est-ce-pas?