"Old" Is A State Of Mind That Goes With An Unnecessarily Worn Out Body
The excesses of our youth are drafts upon our old age, payable with interest, about thirty years after date.
- Charles Caleb Colton, English author and clergyman (1780-1832)
I admit it. I'm tired of hearing people say "Bill, I'm getting old."
So many replies come to mind, but kindness causes me to refrain from saying "Yup, and you did it to yourself" or "If you only had known earlier, you could have been in better shape today."
Several older ladies I see walking in malls or on sidewalks trudge along in ways I used to think of as "walking funny." Why, I wondered, did they walk that way because it would be so much less effort to walk in a straighter, more upright manner. Then I learned, as I got older and suffered from fatigue more myself, that they walked that way because it was the least painful way to walk. Would they do some easy stretching exercises that would ease their arthritis pain and stretch the muscles they need to walk in an easier manner? No. "I hate exercises."
Where I live now many men have survived eight decades of life and wonder how many more mornings they will wake up. Most will live another decade at least, as 90 is the average age people die in my area. Most wear hearing aids, though they claim they detest the things. Yet they continue to ride around on lawn tractors, run chainsaws and pilot tillers around their gardens without the benefit of hearing protection. (Men don't wear sissy earmuffs.)
Little hairs in our ears, called cilia, get damaged from loud noise. When that happens the ear owners have ringing in their head that annoys them constantly as long as they are awake. The ringing, unlike their hearing, lasts forever. Those little hairs aren't like whiskers. They function like amplifiers to "boost" incoming sound waves to a level the brain can understand. Damage or "blow out" those cilia and easily half of incoming sound is lost.
No matter, their sons who have moved to the city won't worry about chainsaw, tractor and tiller noise damaging their hearing. They have loud music from ear buds they wear around for much of the day to do that job.
A former railway line now converted to a walking trail runs along one side of our property. In winter, our province licenses the trail to snowmobile organizations who groom it and enforce respectable use of the trail by their members when most folks find it too difficult to walk over the snow anyway. Motorized vehicles are forbidden from using the trail when the snow is gone. But men of all ages on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs, known locally as four-wheelers) ride the trail all summer anyway. Most drive slowly because of the uneven ground along the trail. It never occurs to them to walk and enjoy the scenery.
At the speed most move along the trail, hearing damage is unlikely from loud noise. When they get home, they rev their engines to ensure they are tuned and as responsive as possible. Good. But no hearing protection for engine noise at the same decibel level as a jet airplane. Bad. Really dumb.
A friend who is now retired doesn't drive any more. He can't see enough of the road ahead of him. He is blind in one eye and the other eye is sufficiently damaged, permanently, that he does a lot of guessing about what is in front of him. Damage to his sight resulted from many different incidents of improper welding practices. Yes, many incidents. He knows how to wear a welding helmet, and when. But so many times he didn't bother, just looked away when he activated the welder flame. Oops! My friend hopes to convert a motorized wheelchair for use on the rail trail near his home. He could walk, but "Why?"
For most of human history our ancestors lived an average of 30 years. During that time their bodies suffered all manner of abuse, without balking. No one retired because the concept didn't exist and because they simply didn't live long enough. Now many of us subject our bodies and our senses to the same kinds of abuse our ancestors did, or worse (because we have the technology), then wonder many years later why we got "old" too soon.
Our bodies will suffer from abuse. Not necessarily when we are young and inclined to believe we are just stretching our abilities to the limits. The quote at the beginning of this article says we suffer thirty years later. In many cases, the number is 40 years. In some cases, it's 20 years. Skin cancer, the most common variety of cancer, happens most often to people who suffered bad sunburns 20 to 40 years earlier.
Teens don't die from smoking cigarettes or marijuana. But 30 or 40 years later they may wonder "Why me?" when some debilitating or terminal disease strikes them. My father spent the last months of his life on a ventilator when his lung cancer surgeon discovered so much tobacco tar had accumulated in his lung that my father could not breathe on his own with his remaining "three-quarters lung capacity."
Food preservatives and additives are tested by manufacturers for up to three years. If they haven't killed or harmed anyone in that time, they are usually approved for use in packaged food products. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used on "healthy" produce we find in markets, but we don't know what effects they have on our bodies years later because they aren't tested long--most for no more than a year.
Living longer is a grand thing that we should look forward to. But living sick or "old"? Not so much.
It may be too late for you, reading this article, to protect yourself from abuses you did to yourself in your youth. Maybe even from abuses you have ingested in your food over the past few years. But it's not to late to teach our kids.
We need to teach children that abuse will affect their lives just as severely if they do it to themselves as if others do it to them. We need to teach them that they will not want to be "old" weak and dependent in the last decades of their lives.
The only way we can ensure that the message reaches every child is to teach it in school. That's where you and I come in. Let's talk it up and influence those who set school curriculum.
Let's make sure that our kids are as healthy as we wish we were in our old age. Meanwhile, let's make sure our own children and grandchildren know what we would like them to know.
Change begins with us.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, grandparents and teachers who want to grow children who will live long, healthy and active lives.
Learn more at http://billallin.com