Death is life’s change agent; it makes us do things.--Steve Jobs
Now, she would have time to grow basil. That's what she told me the morning after my father died, and, consumed by sadness and a bit of shame for feeling the sense of freedom that came over her without the worry of his care, she started to cry. But, after the tears, she joined elder hostles and traveled all over the world; her curiosity had no end. She volunteered at the Los Angeles Book Show every year and at Los Angeles International Airport as an information consultant for travelers coming into the airport. Then, during one phone call to me from a visit to Orlando she announced, "I bought a house," and, in the blink of an eye, she sold her home of thirty something years in Woodland Hills, packed everything she owned, and moved to the other side of the country. Within a few weeks, she had a group of close friends with whom to lunch, talk on the phone, and go to the symphony. It was her Yiddish gang, telling jokes that only they could understand. She had her tribe, her gang of friends almost instantly, because she knew that home is where your friends are.
GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR!
The slogan, "Sitting is the new smoking," puts new emphasis on the dangers of being sedentary and the possibility that sitting is even more dangerous and insidious than smoking. Everyone sits, but not everyone smokes. According to the great Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, who has studied sedentary behavior for the past forty years, sitting is much more dangerous than smoking. Because we all sit, it is imperative that we learn what happens when we become too sedentary, how it wastes muscle and brain cells and takes years off of our lives.
In all the research on aging—from being lucky enough to have been born with good genes; to taking injections of human growth hormone (HGH), daily testosterone, and estrogen (a la Suzanne Somers); to extreme calorie reduction; to anti-aging supplementation—the only thing that actually reverses the aging process was movement—consistent, routine movement. Consistent movement changes cellular biology, preventing the chronic diseases we fear and that have become epidemic everywhere in the world. The elite senior athletes who train for track meets every day are getting younger, not older. Also, how fast we walk is a marker of how long we will live. If you want to live a long and healthy life, see your children marry, and play actively with grandchildren, you must get up and move. Even if you are not as motivated as the senior athletes crushing longevity records, you must move in order to extend life in a healthy way.
Seated Body, Sedentary Mind
The great BB King died recently. When I was very young, I was lucky enough to sit in front of him as he played his guitar and sang. I watched as he rested the instrument on his lap like you would a cherished child, fully engrossed. I was close enough to touch him and see the sweat he wiped from his cheeks with a white handkerchief as he played, and I was stunned at his complete presence, his soulfulness. I knew, even at my young age, that this was greatness. From then on, I was hooked on gospel and the blues; this white, Jewish girl from the Valley was dazzled by the likes of Aretha, Gladys, the amazing Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye. I loved them all.
My Mom died recently, too, at the end of April, a few weeks after her ninety-second birthday, after suffering a massive stroke. She never did plant basil, but she loved and appreciated beautiful gardens. Despite her advanced age, my family was shocked. We thought she had been doing well; with no dementia or signs of acute illness, it was unexpected. Strokes are cruel that way; they give you no warning. But what was telling were her habits—the ones she created in her everyday life, which had become deadly rituals. For the last several years of her life, even with constant encouragement from all of us who loved her, she almost never got out of her chair. This habit, over years of a long life, builds stiff, inflamed arteries, the kind that can cause a stroke. In fact, that is where she was found—seated at the kitchen table where she always sat. Despite her strong constitution and those good genes, she couldn't outlive the hypertension, atherosclerosis, and diabetes that got her in the end. She rarely forced herself out of her chair, and that is a deadly habit at any age.
Forty is the New Sixty
Humans were never designed for long hours of sitting. In the
beginning of human development, we were doing the opposite of what we do now: we moved for thirteen hours on the hunt, preparing and gathering food; we slept for eight hours broken into small segments, and rested occasionally. Now, we do the exact opposite of that, and it is wreaking havoc with our bodies and minds. In every country, there is more obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as a result of our sedentary behaviors. In China, for instance, half the children are obese! Even more shocking is that those in their teens and twenties are faring even worse. Gaming addiction in Japan keeps kids in their rooms in the dark, rarely seeing the light of day. Our physical laziness from hours of sitting in front of screens has created an avalanche of conditions, including feelings of isolation and depression, which could be avoided if we just got out of our chairs more often.
Some of the questions to consider are whether you had a face to face conversation with a friend today, whether your couch cushion has a permanent imprint of your butt, and whether you prepared your own breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In other words, the diseases that we dread so much—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's—could be avoided; how healthy we are is mainly under our control. In the meantime, however, the phrase "Sixty is the new forty" is not really true; forty, instead, is the new sixty, if you continue to sit for long hours.
My mom never liked gospel music, even though to me the music she knew well from her childhood in Brooklyn had similar passion. She couldn't let herself be open to the similarities between gospel and Jewish prayers; instead, she focused on the differences that were unknown to me. These differences still exist, even though the prejudices against Jews and blacks and the struggles of the two cultures exist, in my mind, side by side. The practice of Buddhism was also a difference between my mother and me, although she was open to many of the Buddhist ideas we discussed, as many Jews are. Buddhist philosophy talks about the concept of "emptiness," which is defined (in my words) as the impossibility of separateness. In other words, nothing is born from nothing: Without trees and the sun, there could be no paper; without the Old Testament, there could be no New Testament; without the Jews, there could be no Jesus, and, without Her, there could be no Me. Nothing is isolated and created by itself; we all need each other to be born and to survive.
She told us often that she didn't want to be saved if the quality of her life would be meaningless. After the stroke, she would have lived in a coma, never able to speak, read, or recognize the people she loved. She would have been kept "alive" by feeding tubes and ventilation pumps—an awful way to be. The bleeding in her brain continued for days, and so, sad as we were, we honored her wishes and let her pass without intervention.
As I remember her, she had a love and appreciation of beautiful things that I learned to share as I watched her admire them. As children, she took my brother and me to museums, theatre, and opera, showing us what the world had to offer, giving us the opportunity to see. She dragged us around the country by car and train, and my father around the world by planes and ships. We tasted knishes and sour milk (her childhood favorites) on trips to Brooklyn and savored freshwater clams in Grand Central Station. Everything she tried was tasted with gusto, yet our differences were clear. She was bold in public, making friends everywhere; I was the one who jumped into the ocean as she watched from the shore. She was generous, as am I, yet her anger was hot and churning and bubbled from within; my body is always cold, all the way to the fingertips, yet I was the one who climbed the trails she could only watch from a distance.
Now she is gone, and I am learning to live with the hollowness that comes when you lose your parents. There is a lot of space, a lot of loneliness; the long phone calls from my car as I maneuver through Los Angeles traffic are no more. Even though she was in her nineties, I was clearly not prepared for her inevitable death. What made me think she would last forever? She is gone from this world, but not from my thoughts, not from my heart, and there is no one else like her. Even in the last years of her life, her thoughts were clear and sharp and, sometimes, infuriating. No one could hurt me, insult me, anger me the way she could, but I always knew that she was there, and, in her very distinct way, she loved me deeply. As she became more vulnerable, her bulldog quality softened, and she learned to listen with a slightly kinder ear. The grizzly bear fierceness and love she had for her children my brother and I could always count on, no matter what.
Ideas for Moving More and Sitting Less
- Set an alarm or find an app that will remind you to get up from your chair more frequently.
- Try a standing desk and/or treadmill desk.
- Set a regular date with a friend to exercise together.
- Stand when returning phone calls.
- Have standing or walking meetings or consultations.
- Always take the stairs.
- Prepare at least one meal each day.
Product of Interest
Nordic Naturals Pro EPA Xtra: This fish oil has 1060 mg of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), a huge amount for this fatty acid. In most fish oil supplements you will find, at most, about half that amount of EPA, which helps elevate mood, has an anti-inflammatory affect, and promotes cardiovascular health. You can safely take a lot of it—upwards of 10,000 mg per day–as long as you're not taking blood thinners.
Summer is a great time to practice yoga and tune up your body for other outdoor activities. Looking forward to seeing you soon, and remember that referrals are the core of a private practice.