This past week it was my grandpa’s 100th birthday and until a few months ago, he was living at home alone on a half acre of land, doing typical everyday house and yard tasks, not to mention driving and doing his own laundry. So what is his secret? This may surprise you coming from me, but I can tell you that his long healthy life is not because of a good diet or regular exercise.
For the most part, the key to his long, vigorous life is far more mental and emotional. This is an important spoke on the health wheel and one that doesn’t get enough attention here. Today I want to make up for that lack. So, what are the important lessons we can learn from my grandpa for keeping a good quality of life for over a century?
Surround Yourself with Family and Friends
We celebrated this weekend with 150 of the close friends and family he had gained over his life. And I’m not kidding about that number. He has truly touched a lot of lives over the years, and each guest had a personal connection with him. Every year, he sends out and receives about 200 Christmas cards. Relationships are important to him. He cherishes the memory of his wife of 60 years and still toasts to her at dinner. He has 6 children that he keeps regular contact with plus upteenth grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As a story-teller, he loves imparting history on us youngsters in hopes that we will take lessons and that the past will not be forgotten. And he has plenty of stories to tell, but his history always, always revolves around people. So-and-so was born in that house on that side of town and died of x. Mrs. Y, who used to live down the street, I delivered her three kids and they are all now lawyers.
And when you get his friends and old patients together, their stories about him are ones of devotion. They hold him in the highest regard because he was a great doctor and truly cared for his patients. Such, he has built a legacy and when I say 150 people showed up, not a single one was an acquaintance. They were all important players in his long life.
I will go one step further and say to live in service of others. As a doctor coming to Vegas in the ’40s when medicine was quite different, he built a life around helping others. He is from the era of house calls, 3 dollar visits (paid in silver dollars), and personal relationships with your doctor. No task was too small. He would head over at a moment’s notice to stitch one of his patients up. He has also been deeply involved in several service organizations over the past 70 years, often taking a leadership role.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This man is the king of moving on, much as we’ve grumbled about it. He has a “Honey Badger Don’t Care” attitude, and he releases all his past regrets and doesn’t dwell on negativity In fact, he lives in a rosy picture of the past. And it’s taken the family a long time to realize this, but that’s a very healthy attitude. The key is to let things go – this doesn’t make you an unkind person. It allows you to move on.
There is nothing that we can do about the past; we can only work towards a brighter future. Since we are always growing and (hopefully) becoming better versions of ourselves, holding onto regrets of past actions is futile. The person who did the things we regret is a completely different person than who we are today. Those actions are part of what has helped shape our current selves. Holding onto negativity only keeps us from being the best, most positive version of ourselves and spreading that to others.
Stay Out of the Hospital
They say doctors make the worst patients, and he has striven to never even be a patient in the first place. During his 40-year career as a family practice doctor, he spent a lot of time in hospitals delivering thousands of babies. But until this past year, he had never been admitted in as a patient and had never taken any antibiotics. It’s no secret that the hospital is a dangerous place and visits increase risk for contracting infections or having complications. Drawing from his own experience as a doctor, he flat out tells us to stay out of the hospital at all costs.
Antibiotics wipe out beneficial bacteria in addition to the harmful ones. This fact has recently gotten a lot of press and made many realize there is such a thing as being too clean. Each time we wipe out all our good flora, it takes time to recolonize, and we may never get back certain strains. Grandpa has had 100 years of beneficial bacteria building up his internal defense system without any recolonizing needed.
Willpower is Key
He used to give people placebo pills so he knows the power of the mind in healing. I think he has willed himself to never be sick and has lived this long by shear force of personality. After his 100th birthday party, when we dropped him off, his arms were shaking as he transferred himself from car to wheelchair (he has only needed it the last few months), but he pushed himself and he did it. His mental strength and control is probably the greatest of anyone I know.
Grandpa keeps his mind sharp by being an avid reader and testing himself on his facts. I kid you not, he gets a dozen magazines every week, ranging from National Geographic to American History to Forbes. Plus the family regularly gifts him with books, particularly biographies of important historical figures. During conversation, he likes to discuss what he has learned from all this reading, testing his knowledge and teaching at the same time.
He keep his impressive memory sharp by recounting numerous stories from his past century of life. He recites the exact date of events in his life, likes to remember very specific details, and can (and does) tell you exactly what all the friends (and there are many) he has outlived died of – and what street they lived on.
The discussion of Grandpa’s willpower wouldn’t be complete without mentioning moderation. I don’t believe that moderation is necessary for lasting health. I’m a passionate person myself, and I rarely practice moderation. But, Grandpa has this down to a science. He has been known to only have a bite of dessert, and to turn down seconds even of a particularly tasty meal. He regularly utilizes the art of self-discipline, and for him moderation is truly key. This helped him to maintain a healthy weight all his life despite being served pretty heavy foods.
So, while we focus so much on what we put into our bodies or how much we move them, I want to make sure we remember that there are other factors in a long, healthy life. I invite you to join me in focusing beyond the physical, keeping a strong mind, a positive outlook, and making relationships central in our lives.
Now your turn. What life lessons have you learned from your long-lived family members? Leave it in the comments.