Juvenal, the Roman writer, used the motto, mens sana in corpore sano, meaning a sound mind in a healthy body. John Locke, the English philosopher, said “if you had those two elements in your life, you would have little else to wish for.” Taking care of the mind and the body are imperative for seniors aiming for fitness and leisure fulfillment. And it seems that the B.C. coast is a great area to practise those strategies.
There is increasing research on the aging mind and body, called age identity. It seems new terms such as “felt age” or “subjective age” may be a more important factor than chronological age. Dr. Becca Levy said in a 2006 Yale University study that pessimism about elderly decline becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to be half-full than half-empty.
In another study Dr. Ellen Langer, a Harvard University psychologist, asked men in their 70s and 80s to relive or act 20 years younger over a retro weekend. The men subsequently behaved younger and more independently. A University of Toronto sociologist, Dr. Markus Schafer, in a 2010 study on age identity said that learning new things, reading in a new area, or at least trying to become connected with new technologies and platforms are some ways to feel on average 12 years younger. Dr. Levy concluded that attitude or expectation, not biology, leads many to set limits for themselves.
Victoria and Vancouver are ideal locales to foster healthy age identity. There are always active peers and like-minded people visible running, biking, and walking dogs. A May 2009 Maclean’s poll showed that Victoria ranked third and Vancouver seventh among Canadian city-dwellers who spend on sports and recreation. It makes it easier to try the strategies that researchers suggest when so many around are role models in an active city.
Socrates of Ancient Athens fame said that the first order of wisdom was to know oneself; an unexamined life was not good. The ancients also viewed people as having four sides - emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual, and they must remain in balance. Getting older and retirement are transition periods in life and usually represent a crossroads. The process can be wrought with the confusion and that goes along with change. To ignore any side can be harmful but the emotional and spiritual probably are omitted more than the others.
Several tests and questionnaires can assist with self-reflection and self-knowledge - what Socrates called the examined life. If not directly spiritual, they can at least help a person focus on discovering needs at any stage in life. Whether people are left-brained or right-brained in their approach to solutions, introverted or extroverted, linear or random thinkers, knowing these tendencies can help give perspective to any transition. Online questionnaires and analysis can open the door for consideration and discussion.
Meditation is another strategy that promotes calm self-reflection. The technique encourages a peaceful mind by taking time to focus on breathing, muscle relaxing and visualizing. Often, but not necessarily connected to Buddhist concepts, the techniques are very good for eliminating distractions and stress. Perhaps more important is that meditation can promote a positive rather than a negative outlook, which studies say are key to aging and well-being. Victoria even offers free drop-in noon mediations at the Bodhichitta Buddhist Centre on Douglas Street.
Book clubs are another way to possibly help address intellectual, emotional and spiritual sides. It is true there are gender differences in reading but both men and women can benefit from the stimulation of reading in new fields, and from socializing. Statistics Canada (1998 Canadians' Reading Habits) showed that men read as often as women. For instance, although somewhat more females read books than males, 68 to 54 per cent, over a quarter of men (27 per cent) read at least a book a week. Also, both sexes read at least a book a month with almost the same frequency, about 35 per cent. That means that a third could be in book clubs, mixed or uni-gender, and use it as a vehicle for intellectual fitness.
When one thinks of fitness though, one more stereotypically focuses on physical activity, the sound body. The west coast has many bike trails and walkways, but 55+ year-olds also are taking part in friendly competitive events too, such as running and hockey.
For 32 years, Victoria has been hosting the Good Life Fitness Victoria Marathon, which features not only the marathon but also a half-marathon and an 8 km road race each Thanksgiving weekend. In 2011, there were participants from 16 countries and a chance to run with Olympians. The statistics for men and women aged 55 to 80+ were remarkable.
* 13 per cent of the runners in the marathon were over 55 years old, including 12 runners over 70 years
* 14 per cent of the runners in the half-marathon were 55+, including 13 who were 70+
* Of the 702 participants over 55 in the half-marathon, women outnumbered men (373 to 329)
* 18 per cent of the runners in the 8 km were 55+, and again there were more women racing than men (240 to 206)
* 34 men and women over 65 years old participated in the marathon, including two who were over 80 years old.
Some “seniors” are part of teams raising money for charities; some run because they can; and everyone loves the event, especially the last 2 km, lined with cheering throngs.
The Times Colonist 10 km road race has been held around Easter for the last 22 years. Interestingly, in the 2011 event for 55 years old and up categories, there were more than twice as many female participants (1,880 to 702). There were even seven women in the 80-84 division, one more than the men. If running appeals as a physical fitness activity, then there is plenty of company out there.
Many seniors also participate in the BC Senior Games for those 55 years old plus. It has track and field events as well as a bevy of other activities like dragon boating, bowling and ice hockey.
Speaking of Canada’s game, Victoria also hosts an annual Playmakers’ ice hockey tournament every spring. At the 22nd tourney held April 4-9, 2011, over 40 teams gathered, approximately 700 players over 55 years old. Thirty-four of them were over 80 on two teams; and for the first time, there was one forward line comprised of 90 year olds. Doug Shorting, treasurer for the tournament said the name “Playmaker” was chosen to represent fun and friendship. “We wanted to give more emphasis to the guys who made passes and set up goals, not the goal scorers themselves,” says Shorting. “There is no trophy and no individual records or stats are kept. It's all for the love of the game."
Research shows the saying, “You’re as young as you feel” has credibility, especially if one has a positive attitude and gets active. There are many strategies for addressing what even the ancients knew, that keeping a balanced life is important at any age or stage. Yes, keeping the mind and the body sound is paramount.
JANUARY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
JANUARY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND