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Are We Over-60 Obsessed With Health? Or, Saturday Morning at 10:24am

A few weeks ago, when I wrote that post about eating more vegetables, a reader commented as follows:

I’ve noticed the same pattern in all the lifestyle bloggers. Once they hit 60 it’s boom, health obsession.

I never managed all the replies that week, I apologize, I think I got really focused on editing the middle section of my book and used up my words. But I do want to respond now to the question of why people over-60 might start to talk about health – and hear your thoughts.

When I was young, my body worked with very few glitches. Aside from childhood croup, standard hay fever, and more UTIs than felt reasonable at the time, I sailed freely through my 20s, 30s and even late 40s. I got pregnant easily, I gave birth in an exceedingly painful but non-complicated process, breastfeeding was brutal but I persisted.

In my late 40s I realized I needed reading glasses. Perimenopause brought nothing of note except a brief episode of weird heartbeats. I hit 50. At first, menopause itself was easy. Then I was laid up for a while with gynecological problems, then I noticed I was losing some hearing in my left ear, and, most notably, in my late 50s parts of my hitherto uncomplaining body began to hurt.

It turns out that my sense of self, more than I knew it, had been created (or at least supported) by what we call health. Mine was just good enough that I didn’t know it deserved a term of its own, I thought it was was simply “being.” Does that make sense? I stood up without discomfort, I hurried around and thought and did many things at once, I inhabited a broad and unfettered space. I thought that was me.

Now I’m 62, and laid up for 4-6 weeks. Two weeks to go. Don’t think I’m not counting.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that health isn’t separate. I feel I am not the same person as when I leapt about.

Here’s what’s surprising – although I loathe being stuck on a sofa and I despair at low-level pain day-after-day, I prefer having to consider before I act. Huh. These days I do a lot more living in-between, rather than rushing up a hill for a brief and sometimes-imagined epiphany, and then rolling back down.

So I don’t see eating more vegetables and less meat and cheese, or trying to exercise more even though I fail, as being obsessed with “health.” I’m just living in the self I’ve got now.

I could always be wrong.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone, even it’s a little slower than in days of yore.

35 Responses

  1. I think the reader used the word “obsession” a bit too broadly. I have to wonder how old she is. I’ve noticed that with each passing decade, my body changes and it’s my job to accommodate those changes. In my 50’s, my physical attractiveness changed. With my 60’s, it’s my health. Nothing profound, but this 62 year old vehicle requires more and more maintenance. Considering how well my body has served me, I feel it deserves that increased care. Is that obsession?

  2. Hi Lisa, so sorry you’re laid up on the sofa. You probably have more time to reflect on things, especially health at 60 and older. Our bodies are showing the wear and tear as we reach this age, and many of us reflect on healthier eating habits which are good, but it seems to me there are so many women who are “obsessing” on trendy diets, i.e. Keto, gluten free, and calorie counting. Maybe it’s social media that’s creating the stir?

  3. Well put! A little further along than you, nearing 70, I’m blessed with relative good health but it takes a bit more on my part than it did in earlier decades. When I walk for an hour or two every day I feel markedly better than when I don’t and when I eat more carefully those numbers at the doctor’s office are better. I could be blithe when young – not now. I’m sure my little efforts won’t stave off illness or decrepitude forever, but staying mobile as long as possible is worth taking more care. I appreciate your musings on this as always.

    1. @Wendy, Thank you. And yes, staying mobile is a wonderful goal. One doesn’t have to be acting in fear to want to preserve mobility.

  4. As another robustly healthy, nearing 70 reader, I think we get a little smarter about our habits. We can’t consume freely that which we could, so we have to think about food more. I think its common sense, not obsession.

    Happy weekend, not just in moderation.

  5. My health history is probably more complicated. Having survived sepsis and congenital scoliosis I have probably had to be mindful of health issues for some time. Yet, I would agree that the onset of sixty something has been marked by a vigilance about diet, exercise and rest that some might call obsessive. I’m aware of needing to lie down and back pain requires

  6. Obsession? I don’t think so.
    I am 71, and up until now I had the luxury of an integrated self (body & mind / healthy and active). As I aged squats were a little harder and my arthritic hand was a little worse; – but I was not on any medication, able to do my usual activities, walk my way around the town and sleep like a baby. All that changed last year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and chemotherapy undid the me that was previously ME.
    My straight dark blond hair came back as gray and curly, so I’m trying to rock the Judi Dench look. Acupuncture is helping with my peripheral neuropathy that can wake me up at night. I start PT this week for guidance on best practices for muscle wasting that makes it difficult to walk a few blocks without feeling that I am running a marathon. I gave up alcohol and started a 21 day plant-based plan to jump start a healthier approach to what I eat and drink.
    It is not always easy to accept the changes wrought by age and disease, but I am trying by living a more intentional life. C’est moi…

  7. rest. Whoops the mail got away from me! I want to lead a full and vibrant life so what alternative do any of us have? I always appreciate your thoughtful observations.


  8. I will be 77 in two weeks (April 1st – really!), and since my mother lived to be a few months past 100, I figure I may have a good twenty or so years left on my own calendar – and I want those years to be really good ones!

    Hence my mantra: keep my bones strong, my joints flexible, and my mind active. This takes a certain amount of exercise, a certain attention to food and drink, and an intense dedication to reading, learning, and experiencing. Staying in contact with family and friends is a good idea too …

    “Mens sana in corpore sano” – that’s not “obsessing” with health, it’s just common sense!

  9. A Frenchman once said that Americans age so poorly because we don’t know how to do it. Now that I’m older, I wish I could remember the advice that he gave.

  10. Obsession? No. Common Sense? Yes. Aging is not for the meek at heart. Whereas health during our youth (I am 63) was largely unconscious, health now is more affected by our deliberate lifestyle choices. I do think Aging is influenced by genetics, but we accelerate or slow the deterioration by those choices. And everything is relative…when I compare myself to my 86 year old mother and 95 year old mother in law, I am grateful for the health I still enjoy.
    I wish you a speedy and full recovery.

  11. It is true that health issues enter conversation more for people in their 60s. I’m a month short of 67 now and I am sad to report that I have slowed down energize wise. It makes me a bit sad—so I do understand you not feeling like yourself. I think obsessed is too strong a word, but perhaps observant might fit.

  12. I’m 71 like a few of your readers and honestly, I don’t feel I’ve slowed down at all. My interests may be somewhat different and there are only two of us at home (plus our little English Cocker), but I walk and ride my horse almost every other day. Life is what you make it at the time you’re living it and I think most of us are doing just fine, thanks!

  13. I don’t think that it’s only the over 60 group that is more health and wellness conscious (not obsessed), I think everyone is, and good! I’ve heard it said that “Wellness is the new couture” and I applaud that.

  14. As I have no intention of quietly sliding into decrepitude, I am quite happy to get my health checked and do what I can to stay as healthy and happy as I want to be. Eating well, taking exercise, attending to glitches in the Matrix – why wouldn’t you? I had an aunt who loudly pooh-poohed all doctors, wouldn’t wear her glasses although she was incredibly short sighted, refused pain killers for her arthritis, wouldn’t wear her false teeth because they hurt…she was often short-tempered, tripped over and was embarrassed about her teeth. All for nothing. It was more to do with fear, not courage. I take care because I don’t expect anyone else to do it for me. That is what adults do.

  15. Lisa I find you always have a really measured (not obsessed) approach to health issues. I’ve always appreciated your thoughts on the subjects of exercise, diet and alcohol consumption.
    I’m not yet 50 but I’m kind of obsessed with health issues myself, trying to find a natural way to deal with my chronic migraines has me being super careful about my diet, going for Graston therapy, seeing a naturopathic doctor… I’ve been trying everything.
    As far as the over 60 thing, maybe it has something to do with the early years of retirement. I have a few very good friends in their early 60’s who are newly retired, and I am struck by how meticulous and actually just strict they are about their diets. Really strict, like 16 hour a day fasting, completely plant-based diets, no alcohol or highly monitored alcohol consumption. I wish I could be as strict as they are to be honest.
    I guess they have the time to focus on these issues, and want to maintain their vibrancy and energy… it’s inspiring to see. xx

  16. I turned 70 this year and it’s definitely more work to maintain this body with each passing decade. I’d taken good health for granted until my open heart surgery about two years ago for a ruptured cord in one of my valves. I’ve also had pelvic floor repair. So nothing is taken for granted anymore. I’ve always tried to eat healthy, whole foods and done aerobics and yoga. Now I continue that but am even more careful about what I eat. No slacking off on the exercise either. I guess I am more vigilante about eating healthy and staying active both physically and mentally. Hopefully, I am not obsessed, just more careful. Definitely, not as strict as some people. Life is still about enjoyment.

  17. I wish I could have the body and metabolism I had in my 20’s, when I could eat anything I wanted and stay thin and feel great. This has gradually changed over the years until at this point, at 69, I have no choice but to be “obsessed” with what I eat and to exercise regularly. As for trendy diets, I’ve learned that, for me, foods have profound effects on how I feel and function. Sugar is addictive and toxic for me. Some years ago I discovered Kathryn DesMaisons’ work and recognized myself. I believe that only a small fraction of the population are so severely affected by sugar, but the effects are very real for me. I feel best when I eat huge salads with small amounts of fats (olives, cheese) and small portions of high-quality protein. Bread used to be a favorite food, and I still love it, but I almost never eat it because it makes me feel sluggish. I am very fortunate to have good health, but I can’t take it for granted any more.

  18. My health is about the same as it’s ever been, and I’ve been concerned with it, or at least maintaining a reasonable and healthy weight since I was young.

    What’s gone downhill for me in the last 5 years, since my mid-50s is my teeth :( I feel like I’ve personally paid part of the tuition for the twins my dentist has from his second marriage.

  19. As we age, health maintenance becomes important. I find my Holistic MD (practicing Functional Medicine) provides great guidance to good health and vitality.

  20. I’m 55 and have just lost 4 over-90 relatives in the past 6 months. I’d rather end up like the one who exercised regularly and ate well who died after a short illness with all her faculties intact than the one who hadn’t gotten out of a chair in years and lived in a nursing home where they had to use a machine to lift her.

  21. I am 67 years old and was sailing along great until last fall. My knees decided to revolt after using the stairs repeatedly while visiting our daughter. I have had an injection and physical therapy. My mother and grandmother had bad knees but I was shocked how quickly it all happened. Some days are good and others not. I remind myself it could be so much worse. On a more positive note, I have been doing intermittent fasting and am very pleased..

  22. Really, obsessing? Your words are so measured. I think of it more as accepting limitations and a growing sense of acceptance with our own physicality. Even though I’ve had back pain due to scoliosis since my teens, I was much more blasé about my risks and my ability to recover in youth. I am no health freak but I’m also willing to fight where I can and accommodate where I must

  23. Lisa
    I feel your pain to a certain degree. I’m into my forties and Nurofen is my new BFF… despite all the healthy eating and exercise.

    Listening to my body is a work in progress I hope to learn sometime soon

    SSG xxx

  24. I love the way you put this. My husband has this funny way of telling people who are younger and question this that “I’ll see you in X# of years”
    It is what it is, and I never appreciated it enough when I could walk faster than everyone else on the sidewalk.

  25. I hope you are mending well Lisa and I agree, I don’t think it is such a bad thing to have that time to rest up and consider life a bit more deeply. I am deep into a book on Audible, The Atomic Habit by James Clear and one of the consideration is working on building healthy habits into daily living. Taking the ones we commit to for a time but forget after a while and then move onto the next thing. There are a lot of habits I would like to incorporate but if I can build up on or two, in my sixth decade, I will take it. Health is always on my mind these days, both body and soul!

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