As We Age: Preparing for the Future by Laura Dunham, OTR/L, CDP
Pain is the gap in knowledge that we wish we had known- Jerry Seinfeld
I am an occupational therapist. That means I help people do what they need and want to do to their fullest ability within their current circumstances. It is fun and rewarding work! I get to meet many interesting people I would never have met. I am currently working in mental health at a local hospital serving patients experiencing a decline in their mental health due to various factors, including acute psychosis, depression, suicidal ideation, cognitive decline, and living with Autism Spectrum Disorder or intellectual disabilities.
I was watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee the other night. Jerry Seinfeld talked with his guest and said, “Pain is the gap in knowledge that we wish we had known.” Now, he was referring to some funny anecdote- as he does. But, the line struck a chord with me. Gaps in our knowledge do cause pain. In my OT world, it causes pain and suffering inflicted upon the body through disease-both physical and mental.
Working with patients with one disability or another has made an impact on me. I do not know the number of my days or what is coming my way. Only Almighty God does. A verse that repeatedly comes into my mind is Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” I frequently meditate on God’s plans for my life and His future for my family and me. As I seek His good plans for me, I trust He will use all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
I believe God prepares us spiritually through His Word and His people for the works He has prepared for us. He will also use all of our experiences, our abilities, our disabilities, our weaknesses, our strengths, our victories, and our losses to fulfill His plans in His timing.
Regarding physical and mental health, decisions made today have long-lasting consequences. Your health decisions today impact your health in the future. Our body is amazing. The more I study the human body, the more I see a creator with infinite wisdom and creativity. He designed our body in such a way that it can often time heal when provided with appropriate care. He has provided all we need to nourish and care for the body He designed.
Self-care is health care. There are lifestyle changes that we can put in place today to care for our present and future selves that will serve us well in the future. I want to share some things I have been learning.
REMINDERS: AS WE ARE AGING
Nutrition matters - It is the food! Be aware of what you are putting into your body and its effects on the body. It either builds health or destroys it.
Reduce your intake of meat (especially red meat).
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
Reduce your overall salt, oil, and sugar consumption.
Exercise matters - heart, lungs, and flexibility. We need to be able to tie our shoes, take a shower, play with
the grandchildren and be on mission wherever He calls us.
Strive to do 40 minutes of vigorous activity a day or 90 minutes of brisk activity.
Work on balance.
Be more active - walk, hike, play pickleball!
Brain Health matters - Work your brain. Neuroplasticity is wonderful! We can do many
things to engage the brain to keep it thriving.
Learn a new skill- language, instrument, or hobby.
Upturn your usual way of doing something (brush your teeth with the opposite hand).
Be mindfully present!
Sleep matters - This is when our body cleanses, heals, and processes. Get 7-9 hours of
quality sleep daily.
Set a night-time routine and go to sleep at the same time each night.
Sleep in a cool and dark room.
Avoid blue light from electronic devices 2 hours before bedtime.
Socialization matters - This serves our brain well. It fights depression, makes our brains healthier, and calms the nervous system.
Set regular dates with friends to eat, play cards, hike, or watch a sporting event.
Mental Health matters - Away from the stigma! We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. So, we need to care for it in the same way.
Take care of yourself.
Recognize your triggers and make a plan to manage them.
Laugh, play, exercise, and breathe.
Spirituality matters: Meaning and purpose are tied to satisfaction, contentment, and joy.
Nurture your relationship with God.
Spend time in prayer.
Meditate on God’s word.
Enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
Think ahead- How do I want my life to look in my 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond? Of course, we will have sickness and health issues. The good thing is that our bodies really are resilient. Remember to care for your health. When we care for ourselves, it is easier to care for those we love.