I am in the middle of reading Breznitz and Hemingway’s book ‘Maximum Brainpower’, another book which looks at ageing from the academic approach although the main author is an older person himself. He also had a life change at 65 and embarked upon a new career and then another new one a bit later.
He gives an interesting insight into how ageing is changing, not only because we are living longer but how our lifestyles are changing. Older people who went before us couldn’t just pop down to the nearest store or supermarket to get what they wanted. Food had to be grown and articles made as far as possible. Housework was much more labour intensive than today. This has two consequences. Firstly the physical effort involved in feeding ourselves or working in some other field usually involved far more physical effort than work today when a lot of it centres upon pressing keys on a keyboard. Housework was quite hard work compared with the fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and dishwashers of today. Add to that as we get older we have experienced so much in all aspects of life that instead of having to think problems through we can just rely on the way we dealt with the same experience previously which doesn’t use our brains to solve the problem.
All this adds up to the fact that modern life, particularly for older people, no longer requires either the physical or mental effort required in the past. For younger people they can solve the physical deficiency by going to a gym as many do. For older people this may not be practical. The cost of gym fees may be too expensive and it may not be physically practical to get there. This is why I argue that we should have easy access to the exercises we need to do around the house. One example is that we can use household items, such as cans of beans or small bags of rice to replicate weights. It’s just that we need to be taught how to use them.
The mental exercise we need is a different matter. We need to look at ourselves, our interests and tastes, to find something appropriate here. Even the experts keep learning more about the advice they should offer us. Doing puzzles used to be recommended but not only can this be very boring but the expert view now is that these only exercise part of the brain. The old favourites such as gardening and dancing are now back in fashion but these have restrictions in terms of access to land and physical mobility.
While the experts try to come up with a variety of solutions maybe we can go back to the old habit of finding something interesting to be involved in. If it meets both our physical and mental needs, great, otherwise we need to be aware of the importance of both of these. The good news is that appropriate physical exercise also helps with mental exercise if we do it properly. Looking after grandchildren may be a pleasant option if we have the opportunity