In my role as a dietitian, I meet a wide variety of patients at work. I learn something from every patient I see, but, occasionally, I am fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of someone who has found the perfect balance of health, happiness, peace and personal success. Recently, I received a consult for an elderly gentleman. He was one of those unique souls. We'll call him Mr. Grove.
Since malnutrition is a widespread problem in our elderly population, I received a request from Mr. Grove's physician to evaluate his nutritional status. What I found was a gentleman who was healthier, and happier, than the vast majority of patients I see—most who are well junior of his age. Midway into his 90's, Mr. Grove was still living on his own independently, making his own meals and taking care of his most of his needs on his own at home. With some many people limited by the burden of chronic disease and unhappiness, what made him different?
The best way to demonstrate this is through his own words from our conversation.
"Three square meals per day and a snack in the afternoon, if I'm feeling a bit peckish."
Many would benefit from Mr. Grove down-to-earth eating pattern. Although there is a plethora of diets with conflicting nutrition advice on the internet and in the popular press, sound nutrition for the general population is pretty basic. Rather than viewing nutrition as a means to a perfect physique or to reach a specified number on the scale, Mr. Grove's nutrition focus was to take care of himself and his overall health. He ate moderate portions of a variety of foods. He had been at the same healthy weight for over 60 years. For the most part, he was doing great.
"Let me show you this nifty walker I have. It has hand breaks built in so I can stop and go easily. The squeezing gives me a hand workout, too!"
Staying active and mobile was important to Mr. Grove. He understood the importance of movement for good health and enjoyed getting out and about during the day. He did most of his own daily chores (making the bed, doing the dishes and tidying up). Most people underestimate the power of these types of "up and about" chores. My patients that sit for hours without getting up are typically less healthy than those who like to flitter about the house and garden.
"Every night before I go to bed, I decide on my three priorities for the next day."
I had to laugh when he told me that. I saw a vision of my husband as his future 95-year-old self. Goal setting and having something to work towards provides a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Mr. Grove added that he only picked three priorities to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If he got something else done beyond that it was just gravy and added reward. That sounds like a great stress management technique to me!
"I decided a few years back that it would be a good time for me to stop driving."
The fact that Mr. Grove doesn't drive anymore at 95-years of age is no surprise. The meaningful part of this phrase is how he said it. Rather than saying, "I can't drive any more" or "I'm not allowed to drive anymore", Mr. Grove made this his choice. This small difference has a huge impact in terms of an overall feeling of independence and outlook.
"That is very interesting information! Thank you for sharing that. I will make those adjustments to my meals to make sure I get what I need."
This statement demonstrates an openness for change and improvement and willingness to continue to learn new things. As stated earlier, Mr. Grove was doing a great job overall with his meals. We did find he was short on a couple of micronutrients. This was easily remedied by including a few foods he already liked but didn't eat very often. He was interested and engaged in our conversation and intrigued by the new information I shared. Old dogs stay young when they learn new tricks!
"I have my friend Jean. We go together to all my events and make a great day of it."
I love this one! In conversation, I discovered that all of his "events" were doctor visits, grocery store trips and other would be mundane chores. By calling these tasks and appointments "events", it added a more exciting touch to the day. They really did make a day of it, too, with much joking, laughter and always a special small ice cream treat at the end (side bar note: ice cream as a once in a while treat is the way to go.)
"I have already arranged a flower delivery for all of the nurses on the floor. They were so kind and helpful during my visit."
"I pay Jean to help me, but she is my dear friend."
Two quotes for this one. Gratitude and respect for others. I saw him interact with both Jean and the nursing staff. He treated all he met as his equals. He complimented them at each interaction. Although it was not his intent, I'm sure he received extra special care in return. More often than not, kindest to others is reciprocated. More importantly, the joy he received in making others happy was 100% apparent.
"Every fall, Jean and I travel the area to look at the changing leaves and every year we go to the lobster festival together. I look forward to those fun times."
Having something to look forward provides positive energy and excitement in life. One of my friend's mom just turned 100-years-old. She says her mom always has something to look forward to each day and feels strongly that this is what keeps her in such good health. Which leads us to the next quote:
"I have many good friends that come around to see me every day. The firemen at the station have a key to my home. If I press my call button, I know they will be there to help."
Being part of a community and forming strong friendships provides a sense of belonging and love. My friend's centenarian mom still volunteers in her community every week. This provides an opportunity to feel needed and a chance to give back. Mr. Grove clearly gives back through his moments of kindness as highlighted earlier. And, although we did not discuss it, I bet he volunteers, too!
"I will try to go back to living on my own, but If I have to move to assisted living then that will be alright. I have researched the ones in our area and found a good option. I heard the food is perhaps not as good as home, but that is an acceptable trade-off for having someone there to care for me, if needed."
In this we hear his ability to take charge of his own destiny to his greatest extent, but more importantly, the ability to accept with grace what cannot be changed. We hear it again in the following:
"My wife passed away several years ago. I chose the resting place that was the most well-cared for with beautiful trees and a lovely view. My gravestone is already next to hers. When my time comes, I will know that I've lived a good life and I will be ready to go."
It is clear by now that a positive mindset is the driving force in our gentleman's happiness and, I would venture to say, even his good health. It is the most powerful and effective medicine there is—with no unwanted negative side effects.
I may not have captured his quotes perfectly, but the essence is there. Thank you for the lesson, Mr. Grove. I have a long way to go, but I will do my best to live by your example each day.
Sherise Cortese is Director of Marketing & Communications at Logbook Financial Planning and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at the Diabetes & Nutrition Care Center at Pen Bay Medical Center. Most importantly she is a mom of four amazing kids and partner to her best friend and personal adventure planner. Please like our page on Facebook so you don’t miss our content geared to Foreign Service, military and federal government employees.