Fitness Corner: Simple lifestyle choices key to actively aging

Jan Robertson in her garden.

No one wants to get old, yet we can pretty much agree it is far better than the alternative! There are few of us who don’t complain about how our bodies and minds change as we get older. But as 90-year-old Edmonds resident Janet Robertson demonstrates by her own experience, aging doesn’t need to be as detrimental to our quality of life as we fear.

Jan says she is as healthy and as independent as she was 50 years ago, with “no rheumatism, arthritis or knee issues.” Rarely a day goes by when she is not outdoors, a slight figure moving about her yard, tending to her expansive garden (regardless of the weather). It’s hard for me to fathom that she has been working in the same yard almost daily since before I was born, but it’s not difficult to recognize how her moderate activity and movement over the decades has supported her health and longevity. When I asked Jan for advice to those of us who aspire to age well, she said: “Be active. Gardening, tennis, it doesn’t matter. Something to be active. And don’t fall into that trap of sitting.”

She and her two sons moved to the Forest Glen neighborhood in Edmonds 50 years ago, where she still resides. In addition to her passion for gardening, she’s enjoyed being active in her neighborhood and the Edmonds community (“communication is very important to me,”) and taught for decades at Shoreline High School (named Teacher of the Year for the Shoreline School District). Long retired, her current activities include “cleaning out all my crap now that I am 90!”

Jan Robertson with Pritam Potts

Jan’s lifestyle choices, in her own words:

On vices: “Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I ever did. And I buried all of the friends I smoked with. Every one of them. I drink a cup of coffee or two a day. I don’t need to drink. I haven’t had a drink in years, I gave it up early on.”

On being active: “I skied when I was younger. I was on my feet teaching all day every day. I taught Home Economics, where you were moving around all day, not sitting in front of the classroom. I was also active with my own kids. Gardening keeps me moving.”

On the importance of a routine: “I sleep well. I follow a routine sleep pattern, in bed by 10:30, up by 7, rarely nap. I don’t feel my age as compared to my friends.”

On the downsides of aging: “I’m a little bit forgetful. But you can forget anything you don’t want to remember. I miss my car.” (She gave up driving just two years ago.)

On food. “I weigh probably two pounds less than I did when I was 20, because I’m active. Being out in the yard also keeps me from eating. I enjoy all kinds of food.”

On feeling isolated during the pandemic: “So many of us are alone all day everyday now, but I find that if I garden, I don’t feel alone.”

On a rewarding career: “I loved teaching Home Economics and Power Sewing. The artsy-craftsy thing was a big part of my life. I did a lot of activities at the school. There wasn’t a lot of money so you had to get kind of clever. I enjoyed doing that. I was very much involved in all the different festivities and events that went on during the school year.”

On the tough parts of life: “After the heartache goes away, things get so much better. You think you won’t get through terrible things, but then you do.”

On the end of life: “I have lived my life fully now. There’s not much I want to do, I’ve done it all. I would go happily. I feel as if I have had the perfect life.”

While many of us are bemoaning getting older, Jan has told me several times: “The years of 70-90 have been the nicest time of my life.” I’ve been her neighbor and friend for 15 of those years and I consider her a fine example of how small, simple lifestyle choices can have big impacts on our overall health and wellness on quality of life as we age. In the busyness of life, it’s easy to forget how days, weeks, months, years, and decades of consistent habits can impact us in the long-term.

Thanks for the reminder, Jan!

— By Pritam Potts

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.

 

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