‘To long life!’

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat - The Philippine Star

I know someone who turns into an octogenarian this week and who still is OK. He can play active sports and enjoy them like a child. He takes maintenance medicines like other seniors. But he still undertakes enjoyable and challenging tasks.

Such a milestone invites two questions: what is his secret and how does he keep body and mind active?

Reaching old age. A life is unique to the one who owns it. It could be cut short by inherited genes (congenital bad luck), natural and social dangers (natural calamities, wars, terrorism/murder), accidents, and wrong life choices.

This man has survived his father, who died of illness at 51 years, but his mother lived 16 years beyond 80. Is the gene factor averaging life’s length?

Good luck is a fundamental part of living long.

At work, he had close encounters with terrorism or accident. (1) On a flight from Paris to Manila, the plane made an unscheduled stop in Nice to have all bags brought down to the tarmac singly to be identified by each passenger before proceeding back to the plane and flight. (2) On another flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Tokyo just before the-point-of-no-return, the jet-plane went back to Anchorage for check-up. (3) On a hired small flight, his plane went belly-up after exceeding the runway in Legazpi, Albay.

He had close land accidents. (4) He almost got run over by a car as he looked the other way thinking he was in Manila, not London. (5) In Uganda, Africa, his vehicle nearly got crushed by a truck-driving at full speed at an intersection. (6) A few more etceteras.

As a young man preparing for graduate study abroad, a bad visa doctor told him he had congenital heart disease and he should stay away from hard pressures. Seeking second opinion, three American doctors in his university clinic said there was nothing wrong with his heart and he should not worry.

In middle age, he discovered how poorly he had kept his health because of single-minded focus on work. Playing basketball with colleagues at the university, he could not last five minutes of intense game running across two courts. That discovery was critical.

Good decisions matter. He reformed his physical life. He took Hadji, a university athletic coach to teach him how to swim indefinitely. This coach also taught him the fundamentals of tennis and he got hooked.

Then he underwent a romance with long distance running and its benefits. Dr. Cooper of Aerobics and James Fixx of Running were his inspirational gurus on fitness. At home or at work abroad, many early mornings began with good training runs. Thus he saw many cities in their waking hours.

Running strengthened his sinews for mountain trekking. A milestone: with UP mountaineers, he got to the top of Mayon Volcano and stood on the caldera of sulphurous soft hot earth.

He joined marathons and 10Ks endlessly until injuries through poor methods led him back to tennis.

Maintaining physical health. Like all the rest of us, he suffers from illnesses. But he is lucky he can recover and adjust though it takes longer these days. He has maintenance pills that he uses to steady his blood pressure, his blood sugar, and so on.

His life revolves on a number of anchors, one of which is physical exercise. He does not worry much about what to eat because he burns the calories.

He has long since retired from paid work, so he devotes more time to play, mainly to keep healthy and to issues that he cares about.

So far, he now keeps to tennis as his main exercise. But when his limbs cannot do the chasing and hitting of those tennis balls, he is already ready for golf. He has learned and played it already.

Twice a week, he devotes four hours to tennis. With one session of two hours, he hits all the different strokes and shot variety to hone his muscle memory. His coach Junel feeds him the balls. He discovers there is hope even at the end of life’s tunnel in a sport he loves to play.

The other two-hour session he devotes to match play. To test how he is doing, he rotates in the course of the year a few trainers to play him singles, competitive or just simulated. At other times, he partners with one trainer to play doubles with two other trainers. Doubles are full of thrills and happy jeering as part of the game atmosphere.

Making the mind stay active. The main struggle of old age aside from a weakening physique, is a declining mind. The mind has to stay active.

As in physical exercise, each senior mind finds his own best method of doing it.

This new octogenarian does not stop learning. He did not abandon his profession when he retired. He is still engaged in professional issues he cares most about.

He continues to circulate within the boundaries of his profession and passes his knowledge to others through his writings. He even writes a newspaper column where he could vent his anger or further communicate what he knows.

He tries to keep the embers of his youth alive. This old man, therefore, has re-read some of the books that once enthralled him as a youth. He also keeps up with new writings of interest to him.

He is an avid learner still for things that relate to his passions. He is computer literate. He roams the Internet for information to improve his knowledge.  He uses television for information as well as entertainment. But he balances information gathering and pure entertainment from TV.

To him, coordinated learning has synergistic benefits. As a student, he improved his command of English by writing long hand his thoughts and notes on anything. Along this path of learning, he now copies French texts in long hand. The rewards of this effort include better comprehension of text and retention of grammatical rules and syntax.

He now owns notebooks written in his long-hand of the French translations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the first four books of the New Testament among others.

The most important anchor. The significant anchor of long life is the family – wife, children, grandchildren, and friends. If some elements are missing, the foundations of life become shaky.

I know this new octogenarian. His life resides in me.

My email is: [email protected]. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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