Vigor and Longevity is a Matter of Choices
Fred Lanting, GSD Breeder, AKC and International Judge
As one trained in “the scientific method”, I am perhaps luckier than the average bear in finding a path through the forest of misinformation and pseudo-science. The heart of true science is clear observation of facts and their repeatable verification, which includes testing of the hypotheses under many conditions.
Maintaining health and vigor is a combination of lifestyle, environment, and good genes. I have plenty of bad genes; I can paper the walls with the names of relatives who’ve succumbed to cancer, stroke, heart attack, and more. But I also know that environment has much to do with whether these “bad genes” will be turned on. Both experientially and by extensive study, I have found the key factors in not only prolonging life but also remaining vigorous and healthy to the end. You can’t change your genes, but you can protect them and survive what life throws your way.
A second key to success in health and longevity is ACTIVITY. Call it exercise or manual labor or sport, but it boils down to moving that body of yours around so the muscles retain tone and strength, and the heart and lungs benefit, too. I maintain a big vegetable garden, mow over an acre of lawn with a push mower, and cut perhaps a hundred cords of wood for winter heat. I climb steep hills behind my house, and exercise my dogs by foot and bike. German Shepherd Dogs need miles of running a few times a week because competing in German-style shows requires great stamina on the parts of handler and dog alike. It’s not like traipsing around in a little AKC or UKC ring a couple of times with little Foo-Foo on a pink leash. Handling in rings up to the size of a football field, and working Schutzhund routines require one to be in pretty good shape, and practice is the only way to get there.
By the way, such outdoor activity also benefits by exposing you to enough sunlight so the body manufactures a good amount of Vitamin D. (see sidebar)
My third piece of advice is to get rid of the alarm clock. One of the worst effects of working for a living is developing the habit of a little regular (but not minor) sleep deprivation. If you need an alarm clock, you are not getting enough sleep, and I’ll bet you aren’t hitting the sack early enough in the evening. We gave up the TV in 1966, and found that we rarely thereafter needed the alarm (except when I had a very early flight to a judging assignment). “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, etc.” is very true up to that part of the rhyme.
Fourth, it helps tremendously to know how to handle stress. Physical work or something strenuous such as jogging can reduce emotional stress and give you time to talk to yourself about what’s bugging you. Conversely to what you’ve probably heard, stress itself can actually be good for you (I mention exercise, which is a way of stressing the body). It’s the inability to manage it — the being overwhelmed by stress, that is harmful.
There are hundreds of self-help solutions offered that range from transcendental meditation to prayer to foot massage to simply counting to ten; or you could invent your own technique. You have to continually remind yourself what life’s priorities are, and to not “sweat the small stuff”.
Now, I can hear you saying, “That’s impossible advice to follow when an AKC rep is slinking around the ring while you’re judging”, but the principle is still valid. Stress is bad only when there is no outlet for it or you are frustrated in your attempts to handle it.
Finally, and something I think is both extremely important and will be rejected by most of you who are prone to piecemeal suicide (you’ve heard the phrase “death by chocolate”?), is a major lifestyle change in the area of nutrition. Most Americans are overweight and are poisoning themselves with what they (you) eat and drink. I’m sure that 99% are going to tune out halfway through this paragraph, but just try to keep up with me when you get to be my age, and maybe I’ll listen to you.
Processed food (much of which is not really food) can be very bad for you, but the effects are so gradual that it’s easier to see the hour hand moving on an analog clock. People of all ages are swilling great volumes of such non-essential or deleterious fillers and additives as high-fructose corn syrup, saccharides, preservatives, residual insecticides and hormones, cholesterol, saturated fats, high-gluten foodstuffs, and pretending they are putting something nutritious into their bodies.
I am convinced that my backyard “victory garden” (almost what faddists would call “organic”) gives me most of what I need for health, but I also supplement for the sake of having an inexpensive “insurance policy” — I take vitamin E and C for immune system optimization, selenium to help ward off prostate problems, half an aspirin (when I think of it) for my cardio-vascular functions, and a “multi” just in case I don’t get as balanced a diet as I should on some days. But it is primarily what I don’t eat and what I do, that keeps me from the problems so many people a couple decades younger than I are complaining about.
Originally done to lose some paunch gained after years of being “on the road”, I cut out salad dressing and red meat, and immediately lost almost 20 pounds. This was a long time ago, and I have not missed the beefsteaks and burgers one bit. Nor do my salads need oil, just vinegar. What fat and oil I consume is limited to olive oil on my whole-grain bread or to fry my omelets or rattlesnake in. I eat no bacon, very little sausage (only a few times a year, and as lean as I can get it), fried anything on rare occasions, and generally stay away from sweets. My diet is color-coded, in a way, since most of the stuff that’s bad for you is white: fat, sugar, white bread (stripped of so much that they have to “enrich” it to sell you that cardboard), Irish potatoes, ice-cream, etc. I eat instead, plenty of green and orange veggies, and colorful fruit.
My basic diet is a combination of Native American (squash, greens, grains, a little venison or poultry) and Mediterranean (hard-wheat whole-grain pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, lots of flavenoid-rich spices and herbs). Every morning (except the two times a week I have an omelet made with jalapenos and onions from my garden and mushrooms from my own woods), I have cholesterol-lowering oatmeal with fruit and black walnuts from my own trees, with plain live-culture yogurt and a little honey. The amount of meat of all kinds that we eat is very small.
We don’t use doctors or drugs, we get no more than one little cold every couple of years, and we know more about our bodies than most physicians would. Of course, if we needed clinical tests to tell us more than our education and self-study have, we’d use them. We monitor the
important things every couple years at an annual senior health fair held in a town not very far away. Blood-pressure cuffs at a Wal-Mart, if repeated, are as reliable as those used by the nurse in a doctor’s office. If you can read, can learn how to become aware of your body, and take proper care of it, you can safely cut out almost all the reasons that health care and insurance costs have become astronomical.
If you wish to contest my formula, gather a random group of my chronological peers (in their early-to-mid seventies), and test us with much more than a shuffleboard game or wheelchair race. I’ll even pit myself against those much younger in years. It’s a challenge, a gauntlet that this singular septuagenarian is happy to throw at your feet.
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