Finding Health in an Unhealthy World

In a world filled with glaring contradiction, unfairness and stress, where can we turn for comfort? Too many of us turn to food, pharmaceuticals and other forms of self-medication. The possible distractions are endless, but many are unhealthy or even self-destructive.

New research is showing another alternative:

Spending a minimum of 2 hours in the great outdoors (parks, green space, your own backyard) every week boosts both your physical and mental health.

What roles do nature and exposure to natural surroundings play in improving our health? We know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but does it measurably affect our well-being? Study after study has shown the answer is yes.

In fact, social determinants of health—including where we’re born, live, work, play and age collectively have a far greater impact on our health outcomes than the healthcare delivery system. Healthcare services account for just 10% of longevity, while social and environmental factors account for twice that at 20%, your genetic makeup accounts for 30%, and lifestyle choices and behaviors a whopping 40%. 

Ever since I left suburbia and moved a lot closer to a natural setting, I have been changing. My mental health has improved with ever increasing mindful meditation and peace. My vigilance and fear have gradually diminished, and yet I struggle to explain how this move has changed me. I only know when I return to cities I notice a difference between me and those who struggle with traffic, congestion and overpopulation every day.

Now we have new research proving what I have learned on my own. Sure, this may all seem like a no-brainer, but if you are looking for a new form of tranquility, accept the obvious and find comfort in nature. It’s free and clean!

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How our self-image must change as we age

Somehow I never pictured myself with oxygen equipment. For most of my life I have felt strong, healthy and very self-sufficient. That was how I saw myself as I traveled the globe, collecting sometimes difficult but important life experiences and M.A. degrees.

Life certainly has an amazing way of surprising us!

The view from our new solar home!

Ever since I moved down to southern Colorado in 2014 and then up to seven thousand feet in 2015, breathing has been a struggle, leading to many doctor’s appointments, cat scans and even a recent lung biopsy. No, I don’t have cancer, just damaged lungs from decades of bronchitis and bad air. What a great thing to find out as we settled into our forever home near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I fought hard for a couple of years, not accepting that I needed oxygen full-time to live a normal life. I thought I would eventually adjust to our thin air, using all of my inborn stubbornness. If you know me, you know how stubborn I can be! Accepting reality has never been my forte. But finally, twenty tests and a sleep study later, I have resigned to my new reality. I will probably be on oxygen for the rest of my life.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is!

Some say just move to a lower elevation. My answer is a resounding NO! Living away from cities, listening to the marvelous natural silence and looking at the mountains constantly has changed me completely in ways impossible to describe to others. I feel so content, safe and grateful here in spite of my breathing struggles.

I know what’s happening in the “world” but I can also completely ignore it here, close to nature and what matters most to me…

Coping With Life’s Disappointments

I spent a couple days with my elderly parents this past weekend. It was great fun seeing their old friends from decades ago, and reminiscing with them about our childhood. I LOVED my tap dancing lessons in third grade and running around the miniature golf course at Renfro’s in Emporia Kansas. Good times!

But I would be remiss if I did not also share some other observations I made while hanging out with Mom and Dad. On the second day I felt both of their disappointments with life, and not just with the physical failings which inevitably come with advanced aging.

Disappointment comes with life and the deeper you dig into life, the more likely you will eventually see how disappointing the human race can be.

When I look at my own life, I find the human race disappointing in its lack of intelligence and loyalty. I abhor its cruelty and just plain craziness. My greatest disappointments have been with friends and lovers that I thought I could trust and their failures to be true friends. I believe the world could be such a better place if we led with intelligence and loyalty instead of judgment, selfishness and cruelty.

But in the end, we all may find disappointments with how things have turned out. The trick then is to cope in some healthy way with those disappointments by giving everyone a break. After all we are all only human, frail and flawed as that condition implies. I know I have also treated others badly at times and I apologize now for my human state. As we age, coping with disappointments is our job. One of my goals is to forgive everyone including myself by the time I die.

One great tool I have found in reaching this goal, is replacing disappointments with GRATITUDE:

This short video was the beginning of my journey towards daily gratefulness.

Boomers: What are YOU doing with all the extra years we’ve gained in the past century?

In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010
Birth Year   Both Sexes   Male   Female
2010   78.7   76.2   81.1
2000   77.0   74.3   79.7
1990   75.4   71.8   78.8
1980   73.7   70.0   77.4
1970   70.8   67.1   74.7
1960   69.7   66.6   73.1
1950   68.2   65.6   71.1
1940   62.9   60.8   65.2
1930   59.7   58.1   61.6
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)

It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?

Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise

From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.

Elder Suicides Continue to Increase

Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.

My new “Sky Garden,” built by my brother, Mike and me! All in our mid-60s!

Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?

It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?

I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.

Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and happy perhaps for the first time in your life. Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.

Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!

This and many other lessons are available in my book:

Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife

After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers. If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.

If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

What’s looking happy in my mid-summer Spanish Peaks garden?

A sunset view from my garden!

When everything else in life seems crazy, it’s back to the garden for me. I’m sure some of you can relate…. We have received some nice rain showers this July, bringing us up to 13.5 inches of rain so far this water year (October to September). Compared to last year’s 9 inches, we are doing great! So, what’s looking super happy in my garden right now?

My Blue Mist Spirea is so happy here! They bloom the end of July

The Blue Mist Spirea bushes for one! I have five of these because I found out last year how happy they can be here with no deer to bother them.

The Gallardia or Blanket Flower is also quite content. I have always had great luck with these nearly native orange and yellow plants. But this year I tried a new variety that is all red. I am quite pleased with the results! It just keeps on blooming.

Colorado Four-O’clock, a tough native to do in!

Another shocker is that my native Mirabilis Multiflora or Colorado Four-O’clock is coming back again with a vengeance after a horrible time last summer with the wildfires around here. I have one plant (a taproot variety) on the edge of my garden, that was there before we started building here. Then when we hardscaped the garden this spring, I was afraid we had killed it, but nope. It’s a beauty again this year! Impossible to transplant, but also tough to kill.

Now do you see why I love gardening? With time and patience, there’s always something new to wonder about and be surprised by…

Seeing nature as our home

More and more studies are coming out now, reinforcing the idea that time spent in nature is so good for us. Big surprise there! For centuries we spent all of our time living in and with nature. What could be more, well, natural? But I must say I did not have a full understanding of the importance of nature in my life until I moved away from towns and cities altogether. Most importantly I missed natural silence while living in cities. My entire soul longed to NOT hear cars and other people around me. This longing became more strong as I grew older, and finally Mike and I reached the age where we were no longer forced to live near others for jobs and financial reasons.

It seems now that I learn a new lesson everyday by living close to nature. First I realized I could finally begin living in the present. Meditation and mindfulness seem so natural here with so few distractions. And now, as I observe and contemplate the loss of many loved ones, I can’t help but think, “What could be more natural?” Of course that does not ease the pain of loss, but it does make it feel quite a bit less personal. And what could be more natural than grieving? We humans have been doing that since the beginning of our species.

Living close to nature requires our full attention, that is what I’ve learned as I begin displaying my photos at the local Space Gallery this July. Look away for a moment and you have missed the most incredible sunrise or sunset, changing second by second…

…or the arrival of a Road Runner right outside our glass door. There is so much to be missed!

That is why this quote speaks to me everyday. I wish the same for you!

“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.”  —  Arthur Rosenfeld

What are you doing this Summer Solstice?

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin words “sol+systere,” meaning “when the sun stands still.”  This year the Summer Solstice is on June 21st, 5:54 PM EST, which makes it the longest day of 2019. Following this solstice, the days will get shorter and the nights longer. As one who worships the sun, I see this solstice as a time to reflect on personal growth and the meaning of our seasons, a time of cleansing and renewal, love and personal growth. This is the moment when there is the most light available to us. In terms of consciousness, this is when we can be most present to ourselves and who we hope to be — the Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the solstices — Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Europeans. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer, often called midsummer or St. John’s Day. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Throughout history, with so much light showered down upon the Earth, it was seen as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Summer Solstice Stone Hedge

To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  And many of the ancient traditions continue – Bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals- The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

Why not create your own rituals this year, with an intention to create new ways to re-connect with Nature and improve your life? Bring light and love into this world in your own positive and creative ways.

“Both the Winter and the Summer Solstices are expressions of love. They show us the opposition of light and dark, expansion and contraction, that characterize our experiences in the Earth school so that we can recognize our options as we move through our lives.” – Gary Zukav

Wishing you abundance and light this Summer Solstice!