As I'm getting ready to move I'm saying goodbye to people I know in the Northeast. This includes my paternal grandparents. My grandmother is 81 and my grandfather will be 90 in a few months. As I was visiting with them yesterday I was struck by how mobile they are, and how lucid, in spite of their advanced ages.
Both my grandfather and my grandmother were quite phyiscally active into their 70s. My grandfather was a tennis champ in his youth, and in his retirement he was a tennis coach for a small college. My grandmother began figure skating in her thirties, a sport she continued into her late 60s, as well as an avid swimmer.
While neither eschewed grains or ate particularly healthfully, they both maintained normal body weights through the course of their adult lives. My grandfather, a former smoker who quit cold turkey in his 50s, has had quadruple bypass surgery. But he's still kicking around now. And my grandmother actually fell down the stairs in her late 70s and didn't break a bone!
My maternal grandparents were farmers. Both died in their 90s. Again, both had perhaps less than the ideal diet (a fair bit of grain) but both also ate a good amount of protein and veggies, and it was often lean, grassfed beef because they were cattle and wheat farmers. They also didn't have access to most processed foods. And they were both very physically active for most of their adult lives. In fact, had my maternal grandfather not been a smoker himself, and developed bad emphysema, he would have had an excellent quality of life even in his 90s.
I feel like I was and am blessed to get to have my grandparents around. And I feel like there are lessons I can learn from their lives. They didn't go to the gym and run on a treadmill for an hour. They did sports that they enjoyed and found relaxing, and they did them not out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of play. And they were all what we would call today intuitive eaters, eating when they were hungry and stopping when full.
But it also strikes me that they have the benefit of good genes. Both of my grandfathers smoked, and they didn't get lung cancer. My paternal grandfather basically has no heart function left, most of his coronary arteries have been blocked for years, and by all rights he should not be running around the way he does. For the love of Pete, people, DON'T SMOKE. Bad, bad stuff those ciggies.
Also, it seems that those genetic conditions that might predispose someone towards obesity aren't present in my genetic code (not that I am incapable of gaining weight, but I seem to top out in a normal range, even eating totally ad lib). So I may not need to eat as carefully as I do, but I would anyway because of how it makes me feel.
So the conclusion I draw from watching my family is both that I'm lucky and that it pays enormous dividends at the end of life to be attentive to your body earlier on (oh yeah, and that my kids will never be tall-the tallest we got on either side is 5'9"; I'm lucky I'm not a dwarf). And that it's much easier to be attentive when you're doing activities you like. We all have to work with what we have, but we are also all capable of maximizing what we have.