My mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, died recently at the age of 102. She was physically healthy almost until the end and was mentally alert till the moment she closed her eyes forever. Throughout the years I knew her, I was always amazed at how she greeted each new birthday while defying all the accepted concepts about what not to do in order to reach a ripe old age.
Advice on how to lead a healthy life style and how to prolong our days on this earth can be found in publications of all kinds, be it magazines, online sites, and television; guidance is even spouted throughout social media such as Facebook.
We all know that by not smoking cigarettes and by eating good portions of certain foods while avoiding others, we can dodge major illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. We can follow the food pyramid that indicates the amount of vegetables, fruit, meats, fish and milk products recommended by the American Medical Association in order for us to stay fit and trim. Limit your sweets; increase your protein. Eating too much and becoming obese is to be avoided but exercise and activity is encouraged big time. We are bombarded with advertisements for supplementary vitamins and minerals that build up our body’s resistance to viruses and infections and encouraged to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to keep our systems running smoothly.
This is all fine and good. But then you look around and see people who follow all the rules and still develop the dreaded big-C. Or you read about the guy who ran the NY Marathon for the last 10 years collapsing in a dead heap while mowing his lawn.
And take my dear mother-in-law. She was a British ‘lady.’ Very proper and polite. She always stopped what she was doing 4:00 in the afternoon to serve tea on China tea cups with sauces. Always on her trolley to go with the tea (which incidentally was poured through a strainer) were her fill biscuits, a pastry made of margarine, white flour and white sugar and rolled up with raisons, sultanas and glaceed cherries. Fruit pies with accompanying whipped cream and ginger biscuits were part of the daily presentation.
Yes, she used margarine, a very explicit no-no today. White sugar was totally acceptable and so was white flour. She never got used to using brown sugar or whole wheat flour for any of her baked goods and yet-she lived for more than a century.
With all the talk these days for the need to keep your heart pumping, my mother-in-law, bless her, did not indulge in any formal exercise. In the north of England where she was born and raised and spent a good portion of her life, the only movement she made was walking. Yes, today walking is considered a good form of exercise all over the world but then, it was simply a stroll along the lane. Later on, when she was passed 80 and lived in a senior residence, she participated in an ‘exercise class’ which involved mostly tossing a ball around the room.
She and her late husband ate large meals—usually meat and potatoes-had delicious desserts and never gained any weight. By the way, he also lived till 95!! They never followed the most current fads, continued to drink coffee, eat eggs and all sorts of sweets and were strong and alert until the end.
So what is the moral of this story? I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. But I’ve come to several conclusions that seem to hold true. Right off the bat, I can say that the genes we are born with are probably the most important factor in longevity. Research has shown that if one of your parents lived beyond 80, chances are you too will reach that age and beyond. That doesn’t mean you can abuse your body with all sorts of degenerating drugs, pesticides and greasy foods. It means that given the right environment, your body should be able to withstand the bad stuff and keep going at a relatively steady pace.
So my advice is this: As suggested in the Pirchei Avot, everything in moderation. Marg is good for some things. White sugar and white flour may not be the best, but once in a while, they are ok. Fruits and veggies are a great source of nutrients so the more the merrier. And don’t worry about indulging yourself from time to time. A delicious ice cream cone once in a while may be decadent but it does wonders for your sense of well-being.
Stress reduction techniques are also a must. It’s amazing what damage tension and anxiety can do to your health so try to work it out with a combo of muscle stretches and meditation. Remember to do those breathing exercises as you engage in your daily activities, focusing on long inhales and smooth exhales; they work wonders for your body and mind. And don’t forget that walk around the block.