My father was a legend, and he lived life large. He also used his body like a wrecking ball. Rugby, diving, food, drink, cigarettes, and a chronic habit of not enough sleep… His chosen philosophy in life was to live double… and never get old. He really didn't like the idea of becoming old and frail, and when cancer claimed him at 72, he was among the first of his peer group to be claimed by natural causes.
And although cancer nabbed him relatively quickly (less than six months), there was a lead-up of a decade of various scares and deterioration. He stopped playing golf, couldn’t go for long walks, to a large extent withdrew socially towards the end…
So he somewhat got his wish, I suppose. Amazingly alive and vibrant and affected so many lives for the first sixty... but a real dramatic slide in the last 10 or so. I look at the last decade of his life, and I want something different for me. Especially since he never got to meet his grandkids, while I am pretty determined to have some fun with mine.
My mother, on the other hand, took a different approach. Today, at 76, she is chipper hey. The Glamour Granny comes swooping in in her little sports car, top down. She manhandles the busy little boys, fronts up to me when I try to curb excessive grandma-spoiling behaviour, and her mind and body are in top nick. But she has always looked after herself, in all the ways that matter.
Touching base with two different books on longevity (Peter Attia’s Outlive and Chris Crowley’s Younger Next Year) has revealed both authors extol the same principles about longevity. And it comes down to the following:
Traditional medicine only tries to fix you when the damage has already been done. There’s just less money in prevention than cure, hey. This is also why we now live in a society where the elderly often have their lives extended by all the modern tools… but not their QUALITY of life. They live longer, but in pain or lack the agency to enjoy their last years.
In South Africa (and although we do give them a bit of stick) Discovery Health has been on a different bandwagon for a while. It’s the idea of incentivizing behaviour that will keep you healthier for longer. They’ll give you discounts, free smoothies and cheap flights as long as you keep on exercising, stop smoking, drink less and eat vegetables. Oh, and get regular check-ups. Prevention rather than cure. Good for them, good for you. They don’t need to fork out for the expensive therapies once you get sick, and you get better quality of life.
But back to the core three things promoted in these two books on extending Healthspan (which, as opposed to Lifespan, is about living a healthier life while you are alive, and not simply having a longer life):
Get quality sleep
Connect and Commit
My mom has never been an athlete. But she is active, and as for the other three things on the list, she gets full marks. Which probably contributes to her youthful demeanorur.
I used to do well on 3 out of 4. Eat right (and drink less) is the Achilles heel. My love of good food and drink (and lack of discipline around it) remains a lifelong journey. But I sleep well (usually, not right now), I exercise, and I connect and commit like an Olympian.
And that’s why I’m writing this blog. I checked in with my mom this a.m., and she was lining up her weekend (and week) plans. It was exhausting just listening to her. Go visit with this friend. Go spend time with her sister. Go visit with that friend. Go for an overnight visit with the other friend. When would we like her to come babysit? Go knit that sweater. And the list goes on…
If I’m an Olympian, my mom is a gold medalist at MAKING AN EFFORT. Never as obviously extroverted as my later father, she still consistently makes sure to connect and commit to the important people in her life. And while he withdrew more and more from his chosen role in society as his physicality changed, if anything she is more proactive in relationships and connections today than she was 10 years ago.
They talk about it in Younger Next Year. The most important SHIP is FRIENDSHIP. Nurturing relationships, investing in them, maintaining them. That’s how you keep your mind, your soul, your body young.
I feel an immense state of wellness right now. And in chatting with my mom, I realize it is because of the above. I have spent the month of July spending quality time with friends and family, and that’s why I feel this good.
And I make peace with the fact that a good night’s sleep remains elusive, especially with a combo of small kids and midnight pee-er of a dog. But that’s ok… I wouldn’t have it any other way.