'Change your oil' regularly

It has already started. Perhaps you've experienced it too? People we meet and greet this time of year are quick to say, "So, are you ready for Christmas?" It's a seasonal version of the standard statements we make throughout the year. Questions such as, "Do you think this rain will ever stop?" or "Did you watch any of the games?"

Today, I choose not to open a discussion about inclement weather or college football, but I do want to comment on "being ready." In terms of the holidays, I have a freezer full of apple and peach pies, and I've actually purchased presents for our grandchildren and even wrapped a few. I have a list, and I've checked it twice.

Over my six decades, these sorts of preparations — and a focus on twinkly Christmas lights and eggnog in Santa Claus mugs — has framed my holiday thinking.

But you know, it's getting old — all that attention to glitter and gifting. This year, I intend to "provoke" my own thinking about being "ready" in a way I have not fully contemplated in the past. It's a gift I am giving myself. And it's not just about holiday preparations. This is much more personal.

As we age, situations can change dramatically. It might be an abrupt slip-and-fall accident or an unexpected diagnosis. When we were younger, we picked ourselves up after a fall without much more than an achy bruise, and there were fewer heavy-duty diseases likely to be diagnosed. That is not our reality anymore.

The "Wear and Tear Theory" of aging (one of several academic theories — and my favorite) suggests that the cells and tissues in our bodies eventually wear out, and that's what results in our aging. If we take better care of ourselves, we wear out less rapidly. It's like an aging automobile — regular oil changes and brake replacements required.

Do you have friends with aging vehicles "in mint condition" who have not seen a doctor in decades? Do you know people who make sure their car goes into the shop regularly but have not refilled their blood pressure medication? They probably don't floss regularly either. Sometimes we take better care of our cars than we do ourselves.

The Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement (OLSAR, B.R. Levy, L.M. Meyers, Preventive Medicine, 2004) found that "the elderly" are the least likely group to engage in preventive health behaviors despite strong evidence that nutrient-dense eating, daily physical activity and adherence to taking prescribed medications enhances quality of life and longevity. I would add regular health screenings as another factor here, but I could not find an article about that.

The same OLSAR study found that if we, as aging individuals, "see ourselves as healthy" we are more likely to stay that way. In a sample of more than 200 people, ages 50 to 80, the folks who had more positive self-perceptions of aging tended to practice "more preventive health behaviors over the next two decades, after controlling for age, education, functional health, gender, self-rated health and race."

Think of yourself as an aging Studebaker in mint condition. Proceed accordingly.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus.

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