I have no role model in my family to show me what life looks like as an aging healthy person. I don’t know what life expectancy is.
I know one of my great-grandmothers lived to somewhere around 100 (she edited her birth certificate when she immigrated here so she could get work, so we’re not totally sure of her actual age).
I knew, to some extent, all four of my great-grandmothers, though three of them died when I was young. I don’t know how old they were. Their lives were so much different than ours, but at least I know there’s a bit of longevity in the gene pool somewhere.
And then you get into the people I knew.
There are no people in my parents’ or grandparents’ generations who kept themselves healthy.
“Vegetables” usually meant potatoes, corn, sometimes succotash. I don’t remember ever eating a salad unless it came with a meal in a restaurant.
Limited vegetables, but unlimited refined carbs (bread, cereal, pasta, white rice) and multiple servings of sugar daily (cereal, dessert with lunch, snacks, dessert with dinner, soda, other sweetened drinks).
Both grandfathers and one aunt smoked. Both grandfathers died of smoking-related cancers; my aunt died of a heart attack in her sleep in her 40s.
Everyone was relatively sedentary. One grandma never learned to drive and so did a lot of walking. When her vision started to go, she got rides to do her errands and didn’t walk any more. Her heart stopped before she was 80.
My dad played basketball and softball when I was a kid but stopped before I got to high school. We took family bike rides when I was a kid but those ended, too. He occasionally rides his bike in the summer and often takes the dog for a daily walk but that’s all.
Everyone was/is obese.
My dad’s side has the heart problems. Meds, stents, death.
My mom’s side has the auto-immune disorders and lifestyle-related health problems. Lupus, MS, Type 2 diabetes. Breast and ovarian cancers thrown in for good measure.
No one is healthy. No one has good energy. No one can go out and do stuff. And the ones who are alive aren’t that old. None have lived to be 80 (though my grandma’s twin sister is well into her 90s).
So I don’t know what happens in my gene pool when someone takes care of themselves.
Now … I’ve had cancer and treatment for it, which is a huge detriment. More than that, I’ve had chronic stress (like so many of us) and had depression on some level most of the time since adolescence. I grew up overweight and sedentary, eating Pop Tarts and Apple Jacks for breakfast, having ice cream or cookies or both for dessert after lunch and dinner. A diet of meat, bread, and sugar.
While I’ve substantially changed that, my formative years were unhealthy. That takes a toll.
So I know I’m not going to be the model for good health. But I hope I can still do better than the paths I see forged ahead of me.
According to my mom, diet has nothing to do with weight—weight gain comes from not having enough time to exercise.
My dad didn’t get a fire lit under his butt by his sister’s death, his mom’s death, his stent put in.
I’m fortunate to be an apple that did roll from the tree. I recognize that I have a huge part in how well my body works, and whether that gives me extra years or “just” lets me be active in the years I’ve got, it’s worth it.
Spending the time and energy to eat well, spending the time and energy to exercise regularly, to get enough sleep (I’m still not the best at this, but improving), to manage stress (I’m still terrible at this but working on it) are worth it.
Because I see my path without it, and I choose to Robert Frost it and take the path less travelled by.
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