Life lost, lessons learned
I had hoped to post another article profiling a lifestyle interview this month but instead I am writing about the passing of my stepfather, Roger, who died suddenly of a heart attack early on December 24, 2014 at the age of 72. Naturally I miss him terribly, more than I could have imagined. He was kind and funny, always quick to make a joke, and everyone loved to be around him. He was also a well known, successful real estate agent who closed a deal just hours before he lost his life. And he was pretty healthy, or so we thought.
Here is a picture of Roger with Sue (my mom). They met when they were 14 and 16 years old, dated as kids, then drifted apart and back together again to share the past 40+ years together.
The thing I want to share now, however, is not a eulogy or a story of how this loss affects our family, it is how preventable this was.
This could have been prevented. Aside from missing him, this is what haunts me.
Lately as I work out at the YMCA I notice older adults at the gym walking laps, riding bikes, lifting weights, chatting with each other, and they look happy and healthy. They’re doing something right. There is much research and news on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle and live longer, healthier lives and yet so many of us just don’t do it.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation informs us that heart disease is preventable and manageable.
“Your best defense is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.”
This is taken a step further by Dan Buettner who wrote ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest’. In 2004 Buettner joined National Geographic and other longevity researchers to identify areas in the world where peopled lived the longest, healthiest lives. These areas were named the Blue Zones. People in these areas reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in North America. The lifestyles practiced by communities who live in these areas, places such as Nicoya, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan, practice the guidelines noted above along with a few of their own.
Here are the Blue Zones Lessons – 9 Principles
- Move Naturally. The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron or run marathons. Instead, their environments nudge them into moving without thinking about it.
- Why do you wake up in the morning? Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
- Down Shift. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. The world’s longest-lived people have routines to shed that stress.
- 80% Rule. “Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawans say this mantra before meals as a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.
- Plant Slant. The cornerstone of most centenarian diets? Beans. They typically eat meat only five times per month.
- Wine @ 5. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers, especially if they share those drinks with friends.
- Attending faith-based services four times per month – no matter the denomination – adds up to 14 years of life expectancy.
- Loved Ones First. Centenarians put their families first. They keep aging parents and grandparents nearby, commit to a life partner and invest in their children.
- Right Tribe. They world’s longest lived people chose or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors.
I sit at my laptop now, writing about the proven ways to age well and I think back to Roger, who actually did many of these things right. He laughed a lot, had a positive outlook on life, wasn’t overweight, and awakened with purpose every day. But his weaknesses were smoking, lack of regular exercise and bad eating habits.
So at the YMCA today, as I worked the elliptical, streaming music on my iPhone and watching older men running laps, I couldn’t help but wonder, why didn’t I ask him to come to the Y with me? Would he have come? Could that have made a difference? I didn’t think of this when he was alive last month, last year, over the last decade. It didn’t even occur to me. I realize it’s pointless to wish I could have done something different to get him to change his habits, but in truth I did try. Smoking, bad food, lack of exercise…I tried to tell him.
Still, I wonder if I tried enough.
The thing now is to learn. We must take our failures and setbacks and learn from them, share the learning, and get stronger, better. Well, I’m processing this and sharing with you as part of my journey. I see the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, appreciating every moment, and sharing love with everyone we care about.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned as we celebrate life with more intentional, purposeful lifestyles lived by real people, like you and me.
A pic of Roger from the Fall of 2014