Stay healthy and live long. That's a good advice but it's one advice I have thankfully no need for at this point in my life.
I am healthy and intend to live long. I intend to live to one hundred. There is no guarantee, of course; I know that. There is nothing so certain as one's death and nothing so uncertain as when it will come. But I am determined, and I don't just hope but expect, to live to one hundred. I like the round number.
Longevity is, of course, a mixed blessing. Without good health old age is misery. However one swears to alleviate it, misery is misery, and it is something I would rather eschew if at all possible.
I am no health freak. I don't jog,, I don't swim, I don't work out in a gym. I have never been to a sauna; I never had a massage done on me. I don't dance; I don't sing. I don't devour vitamins and mineral pills. I have no hang-ups on organic food; I go to a health food store only to get bulgur that I can't find anywhere else in my neighborhood. I am underweight for my height; I have always been skinny. In short, I've never paid much attention to my health. Who knows? This may be the secret to my good health.
Turning seventy in two months, I stopped nevertheless to reflect on my health. I was born two weeks prematurely. I was a sickly infant and a weakling as a child. I suffered hunger and severe malnutrition during the war years in Japan. But my teen age years I have been healthy and had little need of doctors. For many decades I have been to see a physician no more than once or twice a year. These rare visits were mostly to get the shots needed in those days to go abroad, or else, for mild ailments -- shingles once, bursitis another time, flu now and then, some sprained ankles, and gastritis a couple of times. I have spent days in a hospital only for injuries from an automobile accident. In the last decade, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which I managed with diet, and then with osteoporosis. For this I take daily tablets of fosamax. Other than that, I take some calcium tablets and one aspirin a day for my arthritis, mostly in the finger joints. None of these health problems is serious enough to pay any attention to speak of. I rarely think about them.
Reflecting on my state of health, however, it occurred to me that while I don't engage in any health regimen, I do exercise. I walk a lot on the days I spend in New York, a mile here, a mile there. It's a half mile from my apartment to the nearest subway station, and, rain or shine, I walk blocks everyday. I almost never take a cab -- unlike many New Yorkers. I go places by bus or by subway. Riding subways requires walking up and down the stairs, and I enjoy climbing up each flight step by step at steady pace in one breath. At home in Swarthmore I also climb up and down the stairs many times a day. I get on my knees to wash the floor rather than using mops. Then, in the garden, I mow the lawn, prune the bushes in the spring, and rake the leaves in the fall, all manually. Slouching wears me out; sparing efforts does not come natural to me. The best exercise in my book is simply moving the body to places willingly. I realize now that I do it without even thinking about it. Saving physical efforts saves nothing.
Again, without thinking about health, I practice a healthy eating habit. I insist on a full breakfast. I have three square meals regularly and, as best as I can, at regular hours. In my college days and for a good number of years afterwards, I didn't always eat regularly. I skipped breakfast sometimes; I missed lunch now and then. When I was travelling abroad on fellowship, I'd go around visiting sights without lunch, in part to save time and in part to stretch the meager budget, and have one good, often sumptuous, meal at the end of the day. Sometime approaching forty, I gladly slid into the good habit of eating regular meals. Reading up on diabetes, I was confirmed on its importance.
I have never been into snacks between meals. For one I don't have a huge appetite for sweets, and I've never developed a taste for soft drinks. I don't care for doughnuts; I eat French fries only rarely and if they are really good; I don't mind potato chips but have them no more than a few times a year. TV dinners, or any prepared meals sold at stores, don't agree with me. I detest junk food. I like eating; but I like good food. A gourmet meal warms my body and pampers my spirit. But I don't overeat. Cooking at home, I insist on quality ingredients; if they cost more I control the expense by using less. I use olive oil generously. I like a glass of wine at dinner, except when I am off to the theatre afterwards and need to stay awake and alert. There was a time when I enjoyed hard liquor but not since I started eating regularly. I don't smoke; I did for three years in college and then quit because I never really liked smoking other than for the stylish look I thought I had cultivated by holding a cigarette.
Since retirement, I have been enjoying good restaurant meals more than ever when I eat out. By good restaurant meals I mean carefully prepared dishes, especially those that I don't cook myself, and I don't mind paying good money for them. When my palate is content, the whole body is elated. Pretentious restaurants, however, disgust me no less than cheap restaurants serving bad food. They are one of few things that seriously anger me.
I am very cautious with medication. I rely heavily on natural healing. For most garden-variety ailment, like cold and stomachache, I prefer to let time heal it. Not infrequently, I request a child's dosage for the medication prescribed by my physician or even refuse it altogether. I'd rather suffer some pain than submit myself to all kinds of analgesic. I don't use sleeping pills.
I learn from my cat Qif to avoid excesses; she knows that moderation is the best policy. So, I don't overeat. Then, I eat all kinds of food -- fatty, spicy, sugary, salty -- but all in moderation.
More important than moderation, however, is even temper. This, too, took a half of my life so far to learn it. As a child I was irritable and quick to flip my top. Eventually I learned that losing temper not only upsets others but also even more severely upsets myself. Don't fret, I tell myself, and I also tell others. I also learned to turn an onerous task into a game, to laugh away misfortunes, and to think happy thoughts when sadness begins to dawn on me. If I begin to feel signs of depression, I get up and find physical tasks to do.
There are obviously more to learn. I have not learned the discipline of giving myself ample sleep. I survive on six hours of sleep every night. Sometimes, I stay up late and end up with even less. In consequence, I am perpetually suffering sleep deficiency. I doubt that my constitution is like that of Qif, who sleeps hours on end. I believe that sleeping too many hours shortens life. Then, if I were to die before I reach one hundred, it will be most likely from skin cancer caused by my obsession with deep tan.
Wouldn't it be a farce if I died or got bedridden before reaching eighty? I'd be surely the first to have the last laugh.
T. Kaori Kitao, 11.13.02