A Love Affair with Birdwatching
You know you need to walk more but walking the same old route every day is so boring.
Let me introduce you to bird watching, a hobby that will make walking fun again. Wouldn’t you like to know a little more about the cheery critters nesting in your shrubbery? Bird watching is fascinating and it is easy to see why it had become one of the country’s fastest growing hobbies.
Walking and bird-watching go hand in hand. You set the pace and the birds provide the entertainment. All you need is a pair of binoculars and a guide book to get you started. Borrow or buy light weight binoculars (at least an 8x magnification) that are not too heavy to hold comfortably in your hands. Next, buy a small guide book that you can tuck in your pocket. That’s all you need to track and identify the birds in your area. Apps and online resources will whet your appetite for more; before you know it bird watching will turn into a true adventure. Ask your grandkids to help you out and don’t be surprised if they offer to join you.
If you are new to walking or hiking it is okay to start slowly; in fact, you can sit in your backyard and wait for the birds to come to you. Find a place to sit or stand and just wait. Pull out your notebook and jot down or sketch what it was that caught your eye (the birds color, size, shape, sound and habits). These details will help you identify them when you get a minute to consult your book.
What birding can do for you:
• Undoes sitting disease. We talked about “sitting disease” last week so you know what I am talking about.
• Sharpens the brain. You are multitasking; walking, watching, focusing and taking notes.
• Listening and watching stimulates all of the senses.
• Improves your mood. Exercise, fresh air, and nature are medicine for the soul.
Set your own pace. Listen to your body and relax. Join million of others who have discovered this love affair with nature.
Retirement is great or it should be, but if you wake up feeling cranky more often than not, something is not quite right. Researchers have been studying seniors for some time now, and the conclusions drawn have been rather alarming. The Stress that became such a driving force in our generation seems to have followed us into retirement.
If you still feel strapped, tired, and bummed out, you must be doing something wrong. Stress, sadness, and unhappiness do not belong in your life.
Wake up in the morning and think about something pleasant that you want do today. If you need more structure than that, set up a calendar for the whole week.
• Pencil in time to read or to visit with a friend (an e-mail, letter, a phone call or lunch date).
• Every day do something that give you pleasure (gardening, painting, reading, hiking, cooking).
• Do something good for your health (a walk, go to the gym 2-3 times a week, plan healthy meals).
Your bliss doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. Try cheap and simple ways to enhance your pleasure:
• Smile at a stranger.
• Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers.
• Take your dog for a walk. Being around animals is known to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Let’s look even further:
• Every once in a while, indulge your sweet tooth. Be sure to savor each and every bite.
• Sing along to soothing music when stuck in traffics, or skip the freeway and take the scenic way home.
• Pamper yourself with a bubble bath or a massage. Get a manicure just for the heck of it.
Be good to yourself. Give yourself permission to be happy. Cultivate a sense of humor; smile and laugh more. Think about what you enjoy and build on it. Do something that makes you happy today.
How much sleep do you really need? Sleep and aging are topics often coupled and I am sick of hearing about it. Researchers have been trying to frighten us “non-sleepers” to death for years. Everything from dementia to death have been attributed to sleep deprivation.
The statistics are scary. They tell us that if we don’t get eight hours of sleep every night we could die tomorrow. My husband, the geneticist, has been assuring me for years that everyone’s sleep needs are individual, and that they are based on our genetic make-up. This is all well and good but as he is a guy who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I was still a little bit suspicious.
I finally found a number of articles that agreed with my “theory” that sleep isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Yes, sleep is nice, but the fact that I am a “non-sleeper,” doesn’t necessarily mean that I will fall victim to one or all of those dire consequences.
I wake up often and I wake up early but guess what, as far as I know or want to find out, I do not have a sleep disorder and I am not tired during the day.
Guidelines say that we should sleep eight hours every night, but there is no absolute amount of sleep that everyone has to have. How you feel and how you function during the day is what is important.
There is no denying that a good night sleep is important if you want to feel great when you wake up. Seek help if this isn’t happening for you but stop worrying if you don’t sleep the same number of hours as your spouse or your best friend. Everyone’s sleep needs are different. Whether you are a night owl or a morning lark is immaterial. The key is getting the amount that is right for you; quality instead of quantity.
The starting point, which you already know, harkens back to having a regular bedtime, avoiding stimulants, and creating a calming routine. You may need a white noise machine, a meditation session, a glass of warm milk or a cup of chamomile tea. Experiment and find what works for you.
Did you know that people who read for pleasure are happier than non-readers? Many Seniors fall into a “lapsed reader” category and it puzzles me. You finally have time to read the books that you have been saving for the last forty years. If you gave them away during your last downsizing frenzy, you can still find them. Classics, as well as the latest bestsellers, can be found at the public library.
It isn’t that seniors can’t read, but that they chose not to. Why is this? Is it that reading is out of vogue, or do you think that people who read have no lives of their own?
I wonder if people who don’t read see libraries as alien or intimidating. I have friends who don’t seem to know what I am talking about when I tell them they can get DVDs, CDs, e-books, and even movies from the public library.
You are in for a surprise if you are thinking that fines and fees and shushing librarians are too much to cope with. Libraries have changed. Libraries today have new missions and one of them is to be as senior friendly as possible.
If you can’t get to they library they will come to you via the internet or book mobiles. You can order books, download e-books, conduct research or access tutorials from your living room.
Need a day out. Visit your public library in person. Don’t let poor eyesight keep you home. Libraries have large print book as well as devices to enlarge print further. There are even machines that can turn the printed page into spoken words. Ask a librarian.
The library is the most happening place in town. Arrange for transportation and spend an entire afternoon at the public library. Comfortable chairs, well lighted reading areas, coffee shops and even books for sale for a dollar or less. What more could you want?
Librarians are the friendliest people in the world and they are there to help you, and it won’t cost you a dime.
What would you do if your doctor handed you a prescription with the word “happiness” printed on it? Crazy huh, but Doctors have discovered that loneliness and unhappiness go hand in hand, and they are both detrimental to your health.
Lonely unhappy seniors are at risk for heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and general decline. Statistics reveal that one in six adults over 65 suffer from loneliness, and it’s not going to get better.
Isolation is becoming the norm. People no longer talk to each other. You can go through an entire day without having a conversation with another human being. You text, you shop on-line, you check yourself in at the doctor’s office, you leave and receive phone messages, and you bank without speaking to a live person. It’s sad isn’t it?
What causes isolation, besides any one of the above? Risk factors include living alone, not having family nearby, living with a disability, or not having transportation.
How do you connect:
• Make contact with someone every day, even if it is by phone, internet, or snail mail.
• Take advantage of ride share programs and get out of the house.
• Join a senior center or volunteer
• Walk your dog
• Sign up for visits from a volunteer through your senior center.
People are too busy and preoccupied to make friends anymore. Loneliness is on the rise. The antidote is to make some friends, just a few, but someone you can talk to, someone you enjoy, and someone you can depend on.
Make an effort. Start small by saying hello to your neighbor. What ever happened to the idea of taking a casserole or a plate of cookies to a new neighbor? Do you even know your neighbors?
When you meet someone with similar interest ask if they would like to meet for coffee. There is a chance they might say no, but there is also a chance they might say yes. Don’t be discouraged. Not every interaction will be a good fix, but your options for meeting people are endless. Talk to somebody today!
Let’s take a vacation. Seniors need time off too, even if a lengthy trip feels too exhausting to even think about. You can vacation anywhere; this means that you don’t have to leave your home, your home town, or even your home state to do it.
You may have to be a little sneaky, or if sneaky isn’t your thing, just let everyone know that you need some time off, and really mean it.
Time “off” means not babysitting, not going to the Friday night soccer games, and not hosting dinner for the family. Travel experts have coined the world “staycations” for what you are going; no need to feel guilty or weird.
Start, they say, by adopting a tourist’s mentality. Pretend you are away, even if you are not, and have some fun. Make a game out of it. Play the tourist; it is okay to send postcards and the odd text or two to let everyone know you are alive and well, but that is all.
Do some of things that you have always wanted to do but never seem to have the time:
• Take a knitting class, reorganize the family photo albums, or just read a book.
• Be a tourist in your own town. Visit museums, aquariums or go to the zoo. Go for drive or bus trip. Get out a map and go somewhere that you haven’t been before or haven’t been back to for a long time.
• Have a picnic in your own backyard or at a nearby park.
Are you getting the idea yet?
• Go to a movie and treat yourself to a bag of buttered popcorn or go to a dinner theater.
• Schedule a massage; some will even come to the house.
• Cater in your meals or go out to eat, like you would on a destination vacation.
Don’t cook or clean. Hire a maid to clean up at the end of the week. The idea is to relax, take walks and play the tourist. No phones, no mail, no visitors…just you on a staycation.
What gets you going in the morning? Yes, I know. A really good cup of coffee is the driving force for many of us, but what about after that? It may be time to figure out the rest of your life.
Enthusiasm and the sense of purpose that you experienced during your younger days often take a nose dive when “the change” is upon you. I’m not talking about changing hormones but about changing lifestyles.
So, what happens now? If slouching around in your pajamas until noon has already lost its appeal, you may need to rethink your life plan.
Let’s examine some options. How did you feel when you woke up this morning? Were you enthused and ready to face the day, or were you already bored and deflated?
I read an article a while back that talked about evaluating all of the activities that make up your day. By all activities I mean everything: volunteer commitments, cooking, cleaning, writing letters, researching the family tree, hobbies, and even your fitness program. Are you having fun yet?
When you work on these activities do you lose track of time? Are you constantly thinking of ways to change them up or make them better? Do you daydream about them when you doing something else? Do you look forward to the next time you can work on them?
If nothing engages you to that point it is time to put on your thinking cap. Try making an old fashioned “to-do” list and organize your days. Think about:
Daily activities: Coffee with friends, read the newspaper, take a walk, plan healthy meals or checking social media.
Weekly activities: Spanish lessons or joining a book club.
Long term: A trip to Mexico, keeping a journal or writing a book, or finally mastering your electronic devices.
Base your lists on things you have “always” wanted to learn, places you have “always” want to go, or causes you have “always” to champion.
Do you get the idea? Now you have a reason to get up.
It’s June. Temperatures are already soaring. For many it is going to be a long hot summer. Last week we talked about the important of drinking enough water, but dehydration isn’t the only concern. Seniors, especially those with chronic conditions, are particularly vulnerable as temperatures soar. Did you know that more people in the United States die from extreme heat every year than from hurricanes, lightening, tornadoes, floods or earthquakes combined? Think about what that might mean for you.
Most of us love summer; we don’t think much beyond cranking up the air conditioning or taking the grandkids to the pool or beach, but not everyone is so lucky. For many seniors living on a fixed income, air conditioning is a luxury not a given. If temperatures in your house are above 85 for a prolonged period of time you could be in danger.
Everyone has heard of hypothermia (what can happen when you are exposed to freezing temperatures), but not everyone is as familiar with hyperthermia? Hyperthermia, commonly referred to as heat fatigue, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke is what happens when your body is too hot.
The symptoms of hyperthermia are often missed. Confusion, dizziness, muscle cramping, fever and headache are not uncommon in the elderly, a little exacerbation is often chalked up to worsening dementia.
• Drink plenty of fluids every day to stay hydrated.
• When outdoors, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
• Stay indoors on hot and humid days or go somewhere cool (senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters or the public library).
• Plan ahead, take hot weather seriously; be prepared.
• If you cannot leave your house and do not have air conditioning, take a cool bath or shower to lower your body temperature.
Know the signs of heat stroke and take action if you notice that your face is flushed, you have a temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness or confusion. Hot weather is more than just an inconvenience for older adults.
Summer is here. Once again, I want to address the subject of dehydration. Seniors don’t drink enough water; they often ignore the fact that drinking water is as important as eating a well-balanced meal.
Dehydration isn’t about living in a third world country or being stranded on a desert island. It can happen to you. Early symptoms: fatigue, weakness, lethargy, sunken eyes, dizziness and headaches are often missed. You may think you have a cold or that you are just tired, but it could be your body telling you that you are dry!
I know, you hate drinking water, but let’s take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas for making plain old water more interesting.
The question is what counts as fluids? If you are like me you are probably wondering if 4 cups of coffee, 2 glasses of ice tea and 2 cups of herbal tea at bedtime count toward fluid intake. Good news: Researchers say that caffeinated beverages do count, BUT they still say that half of your fluid intake should be plain water.
It has become fairly common these days for hotels and conference centers to place water coolers in the lobby. You can’t miss them because they are attractively displayed; fresh fruits or even vegetables added to the water are a beautiful sight. Even die hard non-water drinkers will be tempted.
Drink water wherever you are:
• Remember the jugs with the little spigots for making sun tea? Fill one with ice water and add slices of strawberries, lemons, mangoes, watermelon, cucumbers or limes.
• If you prefer sparkling water you can get a gadget like the Soda Stream that turns ordinary water into something special or add a splash of juice to your water bottle.
• Determine how much water you plan to drink each day, fill your personal water bottle often from that jug in the frig, and keep it at your side all day long.
Remember, you don’t have to guzzle an 8-ounce glass all at once, instead be a dedicated sipper. Next time afternoon fatigue kicks in, reach for a glass of nature’s natural refreshment. It is cheap, calorie-free, and without equal.
My good friend in Wisconsin, despite a very long and very cold winter, is digging out her gardening tools, dusting off her grow lights and preparing her seed pots. It is time, snow on the ground or not, to think gardening.
Once the family had flown the coop and gardening is no longer an economic necessity, you may be asking yourself “why bother.” It is easy to purchase a single tomato, a small bunch of lettuce and a few green onions, but it just isn’t the same. Once exposed to the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of gardening it is pretty hard to let it go.
Planting, digging, mowing and other activities related to gardening are a great work out. Thirty minutes a day of moderate activity, such as gardening, can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions. Not to mention that you will have all of the fresh fruits and vegetables you can eat.
Exercise is reason enough, but there is something about digging in the dirt that makes you feel like a kid again. Gardening is dirty, but at the same time there is something life affirming about getting back to basics; soil, seeds, and seasonal cycles.
Smart seniors have discovered the world of ergonomic tools. By adopting a few modifications and using innovative tools they can garden without causing excessive strain on tender joints.
Don’t worry about not having a green thumb; it may be that your time just hasn’t come yet. Patience, experience, more leisure time, and the maturity that comes with age gives you an edge over your younger more impatient self.
Check with your doctor and be sure you understand good body mechanics, and then go for it. Digging, smelling blossoms, breathing in fresh air, feeling the sunshine on your shoulders will bring you inner peace like nothing else.
Now the answer to the real question. What are you going to do with your abundant harvest (beside eating more vegetables)? The answer of course is to “share” your bounty with neighbors, friends and the community soup kitchens. Share your joy!