Last update: 11-Dec-2013 1:28 am
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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A Scottish lesson in ageing well
I couldn’t do this in Scotland. It was too cold to sit as I am now, in a hammock on a patio, my dog resting peacefully beside me, birds chirping loudly but carefully avoiding the watchful eye of the cat who lounges on my lap as I write. I am thankful to return to the warmth and easy tropical breeze of home. Trinidad does have its perks.
Yet the cold was no deterrent to the numerous cyclists, hikers, and backpackers who littered the roads of the Scottish countryside. This is not surprising. Having grown up in such weather, they are very much used to it. But what was pleasantly shocking was the age of these active people. With full heads of grey hair and wrinkled skin as rugged as some of the terrain they traversed, they were easily in their seventies. They pedaled the undulating hills with the pleasure and ease of a Sunday afternoon drive, waving to each other as they crossed paths. Others, some alone, some in groups, were hiking the stark, savage mountain paths on the Isle of Skye. Others traversed the hills of the Highlands, left smooth and rounded by the sandpaper-like forces of ice sheets that once blanketed the region.
Watching them I heard my father’s voice echoing, “Age is but a number! You are as old as you feel!” While some discretion should be used in interpreting his firm belief, there is truth in his statement.
In Trinidad old age seems to be a death sentence.
“She ole so she shouldn’t do dat.”
“My days for dat done!”
And my personal favourite, “I too ole for dis oui!”
If someone is retired, the Trini expectation is that they should be slowing down, take a rest after lunch, and not work too hard around the house because you could “hut up yuh back or twis up yuh knee and fall dong.”
Why should it be like that? Why not speed up after retirement instead of slowing down? After all there is more leisure time in retirement, time to take care of our bodies and minds. I am not saying that we must become extreme athletes in our later years. Invariably, there is age-related degeneration in our bodies such as arthritis, which is sometimes accompanied by pain. But this does not mean we should become less active. Quite the opposite, an active lifestyle is one of the best methods for combating age-related changes in our bodies.
While these degenerative changes may not allow us to hike El Tucuche or play football or jog around the Savannah, there are other less aggressive ways to stay active. I suspect that is why so many elderly people were riding their bikes in Scotland. Cycling is much easier on the joints than is jogging. But in Trinidad, where can elderly people safely cycle? Apart from the potholes and bumpy roads with canals on either side, crazed, disrespectful and selfish motorists abound and the stress they cause will surely accelerate the ageing process for elderly cyclists, if not end their lives with reckless driving.
Walking seems to be a more feasible option for the elderly in Trinidad. People in the English Lakes District, easily in their seventies and eighties, were out walking with their well-behaved, groomed dogs, some of which seemed just as old as their masters. Yet they were out for exercise. However, Trinidadians first have to get over this upsetting and cruel belief that a dog should be locked up or chained, its sole purpose to be used as a watch. A dog is a pet, needing love and exercise, just as we do, and is a fabulous way to help an elderly person stay active.
There were even some senior citizens walking their dogs despite the fact that they used a walking stick. In Coniston, people with canes were almost as common as those without. A trip to historical Stirling Castle near Edinburgh seemed to be a common event for many persons with disabilities. People in wheelchairs, with walkers and canes abounded. It was so pleasing to see that people did not let their age or disabilities hamper them from experiencing life’s pleasures. I am cautiously delighted to see amphibious wheelchairs being introduced at Maracas so that differently-abled people can enjoy the beach. Now let’s see if they would be maintained!
The elderly should not be sentenced to a life of rest and immobility, as if waiting on their number to call. There is still so much of life to enjoy, so much movement and activity to be had. While ageing may not allow us to do what we once did, it is certainly not a death sentence. “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day!”
Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre Ltd in El Socorro.
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