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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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The trouble with growing old

18 June 2020

Here I am, in my 68th year, my lifespan having wildly exceeded my expectations back when I was a teenager.

I figured I'd be lucky to make it past my 30s and did my best to ensure that was a self-fulfilling prophesy by gorging myself on pizza, sugary soft-drinks and other taste delights.

Nor for me was regular exercise or other things that might prolong my lifespan to the maximum allowed by my genetics. Carpe Diem was my motto and thinking of tomorrow was folly because, as we know, tomorrow may never come.

So here we are and I'm officially "old", way older than perhaps I should be.

Yeah, the old body's taken a battering, and the brain too... if this Parkinson's is any indicator.

However, I'm quite surprised at how well things are holding up, given the abuse to which this mortal coil has been subjected. Unfortunately though, the ravages of time are becoming more apparent, on an almost daily basis.

So what are the worst bits about growing old and what are the best bits?

Well for a start, as one's mortality becomes increasingly obvious there is an increased awareness of the need not to push your luck.

The older I get the more risk-averse I become.

Not for me, the scary things I would have done in a heartbeat as a younger man. Choices involving risk are now careful and considered. With the countdown to oblivion ticking away I see no point in short-circuiting the process through deliberately creating danger.

As a result, I drive more slowly (commensurate with my decaying reflexes, eyesight and general abilities). I have also taken to avoiding jumping from heights or climbing trees when not absolutely necessary -- why did I choose flying model aircraft and drones as a hobby?

These days I notice a lot more "routine" in my daily life. Most days follow the same kind of timetable, with the same activities performed in pretty much the same sequence. Perhaps this is because a failing memory demands that things become routine, so that you don't have to consciously remember stuff. Perhaps it's just that us older folk feel less comfortable with change.

I am paying a lot more attention to my health and fitness than I ever did before. This, I figure, is one way of getting the most of of what life I have left. Nobody wants to live beyond the point where their body craps out and they become dependent or a burden on others so keeping all the moving bits moving as well as they can is important. This means I regularly do resistance training and walk quite a bit. Actually, I've always been a walker, perhaps that has helped mitigate some of the harm I've done in the past with bad diet and lifestyle choices. The more I read, the more I realise that walking is a pretty good exercise for both body and mind.

While discussing the fitness thing, I've basically ditched most carbs from my diet and although I'm not "full keto", I do mainly eat protein, fats and fibre. This does make it so much easier to keep the weight off and that's got to be good.

One thing I have tried very carefully to avoid (some would say unsuccessfully) is the trap of becoming "grumpy". It's so easy to see the negative in everythying as you age because you realise how much better things *could* be. By constantly reminding myself that I'm not always right and that everyone's opinion is just as valid as my own, I'm hoping that I'll try to keep a positive and constructive outlook for as long as possible. I'm sure my wife will kick me back into line when I start failing at this.

The single biggest problem with growing old is that you lose resilience.

One day I might feel fine, a box of birds, on top of the world. No aches, no pains plenty of energy, lots of enthusiasm for life and filled with the joys of life.

The next day some part of my anatomy decides it's going to have a day off and I feel like crap. It might be a trapped nerve in my back, a headache, my Parkinson's deciding to turn my hands into a quivering and uncontrollable mess -- or just a cloudiness of thought that dulls my connection with the world around me. I had just such a day earlier this week and found it almost impossible to type up my daily blog. Fingers were just not going where they were told and it was so frustrating, as a 120WPM touch-typist to resort to "hunt and peck" for two hours, just to get my thoughts on the screen.

The next day (after a little medication) -- bingo, back to my bouncy self.

Today, my groin is sore... a legacy of the double hernia mesh implant operation I had a few years ago. It seldom gives me problems (I'm luckier than many) but every now and then it feels like some disappointed girlfriend as kicked a home goal using my man-parts as the ball.

On reflection, I can see how this all works and the way nature has carefully planned the degradation of mind and body as we age.

Have you ever wondered why we don't live in constant fear of dying?

Well when you're young, the prospect of dying of age-related conditions can be completely dismissed from your conscious thoughts because it's so far in the future.

As you age, nature gradually starts ramping up the "discomfort" and I guess that at some stage you just reach a point where you don't fear death, in fact you welcome the release it provides from all the issues that gradually accumulate due to the aging process.

As for me... well I'm a very long way from that point and I'm still a carpe diem kind of guy who treats every day as if it was his last, in the full and certain awareness that one day I'll be right.

These days I have an excellent tolerance of pain (kind of a necessity some days) and an "adequate" tolerance of idiots (not so much for bureaucrats and politicians though).

I'm presently leading a few crusades that are (hopefully) keeping me mentally agile and I hope to die quietly in my sleep long before I become a burden on anyone.

It's supposed to rain today but hey... every cloud :-)

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