Our personal health columnist, who has just turned 80, takes stock of her life and decides how to best live it.
The day after my 80th birthday, which was overflowing with good wishes, surprises, and covid-proof celebrations, I woke up feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens next, I’m fine with it. My life has been rewarding, my wish list is empty, my family is prosperous, and if it all ends tomorrow, so be it.
Not that I anticipate doing something to hasten my death. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthy, and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also taking stock of the many common traits of aging and deciding what to reconsider.
I have found a lot of inspiration and guidance in a new book, Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old by Steven Petrow, written with Roseann Foley Henry. Petrow, who is also a columnist but is nearly two decades younger than I am, began to think about the future after observing his parents’ mistakes as they got older, like waiting too long to get hearing aids.
I took a similar inventory of my life and started at the top, with my hair. I had been painting it for decades, becoming clearer as I got older. But I realized that during the pandemic, many people – both men and women of all ages – had stopped covering their gray hair. And they looked good, sometimes better than dark-dyed hair over a wrinkled facade. Nowadays, I too have gray hair and I love them, although I can no longer blame my dog for the white hairs on the couch!
I’ve also resisted the common temptation to cover up other cosmetic issues. Now I barely wear makeup and my usual summer outfit is still shorts and a tank top. Damn wrinkles. I am proud to have them.
But I will continue to get irritated with bad grammar and correct misuse of language whenever I can.
And I will stubbornly resist modifying my habits just to avoid potential tragedies that others foresee. I walk my dog through the woods on slippery rocks, roots, and fallen logs so I can enjoy his fearless energy and athleticism and improve my own balance and self-confidence. The doctor who checks my bone health ends each visit with an order: “Don’t fall,” and the treacherous walk in the woods is part of my answer. As Petrow emphasized, fear of falling “can actually lead to more falls,” as it makes you unduly anxious, hesitant, and focused on your feet rather than what is in front of you.
My kitchen was built for a five foot cook who, thanks to scoliosis and my shrinkage, is now several inches shorter. That means I often climb to reach items that I can’t fit on a closer shelf. But I always use a sturdy stool, unlike a 78-year-old friend who foolishly climbed on a chair (a big no-no), fell, and injured his back.