My Grandma's 93, but doesn't fit the stereotype of what 93 should be … she's totally engaged in life, reads voraciously, travels, is totally committed to her faith, her family and her friends … and she still takes an aerobics class three times a week.
I wanted to tell you about her just because I think she's great, plus I think she's an example of how lifestyle can perhaps affect how well we age. I don't mean we will all live to be 100 or even to 90. But I mean most of us can live better, healthier and longer lives if we make a few simple changes in our lives.
My Grandma Ramey hasn't had an easy life. Born in 1915, her mother died when she was very young. She was a teenager during much of the Depression. She married my grandfather and had eleven children - three died as children and two have died as adults of today's top killer, cancer. My Grandfather died – from a heart defect - when their youngest baby, my Aunt Rebbeca, was only nine months old.
She has experienced periods of being poor and she has always had to work hard to provide for and take care of her family. Two more husbands and numerous friends and relatives have passed away.
So what has she done that I believe has helped her live a long and healthy life?
Until she was in her 80s and moved to a condo to be closer to her daughters, Grandma Ramey always kept a huge garden, which supplied much of what she ate. She's been a vegetarian for many decades … eating much of her food raw … even nibbling straight from the garden (which I thought was such great fun as a kid!) … she no longer has her own garden, but is still vegetarian with a love for fresh fruits and veggies … She's always been very physically active, too.
One time, she was visiting us when she was in her late 70s ... When I woke up I couldn't find her. I looked all over the house. Finally, I went outside and found her … she had taken an early morning miles long hike through the huge state park behind our house and then climbed one of our trees to bird watch. By the time I found her, it was only 8 am … she'd headed out when the sun came up and she was still having fun at that evening's party around the bon fire.
I think being vegetarian and being active are both very important for good health and I think both have helped my Grandma greatly in being well for the majority of her life. But I think there's even more to it …
I've always known my Grandma Ramey to be an optimist. She's suffered losses and grieved, but has always, always been grateful for everything and been very happy with her life no matter what it brought her … I don't think she's ever had a meal without first giving thanks … or ever spent much time feeling sorry for herself, even when she may have had very real reasons to feel down … she's always looked on the bright side of her life and the lives of others …
For example … my cousin was having chemotherapy treatment which caused her hair to fall out. My Grandma told me, "Oh, Beth has SUCH a BEAUTIFUL wig!" She didn't focus on the hair loss at all, but how good she looked in the wig.
And she loves being around people. She's always had an active social life and gladly attends any party, luncheon or get together to which she's been invited. She still has a very active social life, with lunch dates and shopping trips and traveling.
My Grandma has always been able to find the nugget of joy in any situation … whether that be the taste of an ear of corn eaten raw and fresh in a sunny garden, doing physical work and play or deeply sharing her life with others … through births, lives and deaths …
Yes, we're all better off if we eat healthy – which means mostly vegan - and get regular exercise. Most people know that even if they may not practice it … But maybe finding those nuggets of joy, and reaching out towards everything life has to offer, is just as important as anything else.