Compressing the Middle

I would like to take a look today at aging. The gap between a ten-year old and a twenty-year old is significant. One is a small child that is not yet ready to be left alone, the other a young adult entrusted to vote, drive and often live part-or full- time on their own.

The difference between twenty and thirty is smaller. From young adult to full fledged adult. Then we enter the middle when the changes are smaller or compressed. A place where it can be hard to tell the age of a person, we stay in the compressed middle for several decades. Only small difference in our personal wellness mark forty and fifty. But what about sixty? Many are starting to now see large declines in their sixties. Declines in physical ability, I am not speaking of the small difference like not running the marathon or swimming the 200 free in the same time as we were once able to, but the large changes that limit and reduce our life.

Increasing weight, reduced exercise, poor eating habits, and other lifestyle issues cab cause us to need to live on medications. Or the shortness of breath, lack of flexibility, the fragile and painful knee, hip, or back that limit our activity.  Or worse, the unseen reduced blood flow to the brain or heart leading to strokes and heart attacks. I don’t mean to lump everyone together, for a few these are not lifestyle issues, but for most they are choices we make everyday that drive our long-term health.

At some point we move into a period of life where the differences are not so small any more. Like in our childhood the changes between 60 and 70, and between 70 and 80 begin to grow again, marking our exit from the compressed middle.

I learned a very personal lesson on how dramatic the changes can be on an individual.  As I grew into a young adult I watched my mother, and her sister (who is four years older) both begin to reach middle age and begin to develop some of the common issues.  Neither smoke or drank, but they were sedentary and did not have great diets and were both over weight.

My aunt’s doctor told her she was prediabetic and needed to change her diet and exercise to get healthier.  She listened!  She lost the weight, getting comfortably into the ideal range for her height, and started becoming a power walker for life. Fast forward forty years. My aunt, now 91 is strong, healthy and living an independent life. She has some smaller health issues that go with her age, but none that were caused by the choices she made. My mom, now 87 did not change at that critical point in life. Instead she remained sedentary, did not change her diet, and continued to put on weight, just a little each year, but it added up. When she reached her early 70s, I got the call every adult child fears.  My mom had a major stroke. The stroke was followed by open heart surgery to repair a heart valve and do a bypass. Next came a series of emergency surgeries over a two-year period to repair life threatening incarcerated hernias. Hernias she had because of all the weight putting to much pressure on her abdominal muscles.

So now my mom walks with a walker, speaks with difficulty, struggles to do math, and has a string of other issues that come from heart attacks, strokes, and loosing multiple sections of your intestines to the hernias.

I look at my mom and my aunt and can clearly see that the two paths were based on a single life changing moment that split their otherwise similar lives. My goal for aging is to put off the decline. Staying fit longer, making wise eating, exercise, and fitness choices can help me have a greater quality of life by pushing off the steep decline of aging into my 80s or later and seeking to prevent life altering events like strokes.  My family genetics say I will likely live well into my nineties or longer. So, the question is how well will I live?  These days most people having that stroke or heart attack don’t die, they simply live with new limitations brought on by the event. So, my advice, do what you can to prevent the event and stay in the middle where the changes are small.

After you have had the heart attack, stroke, or other life altering event is not the time to start. The best time to start was yesterday. If you didn’t start then, the next best option is today! Join me in committing to a healthy, active, and balanced life style that will help us all stay in the compressed middle.

Up Next: Swimming in the heat

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