THE BLOG

Keeping My Best 'Me' at Age 74

06/26/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

People approach middle and old age in a variety of ways; some try to appear younger with Botox, plastic surgery and other artificial methods. Others give in and give up, just sitting around lethargically; while others choose to embrace it - either through formal programs, or through informed informal means. I've done both -- given up during my 60s, and embraced it from 70 on; you might say I'm now a happy veteran of aging healthfully, my way.

What did our forebears do to maintain a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, before Lumosity, gym memberships, the latest diet and other programs? That's the approach I prefer -- the natural, zest for living -- that has brought back the me of my best years, and keeps her in me.

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Farming in the West of Ireland

My ancestors in the West of Ireland kept vigorous by just the everyday activities of a grounded life, maintaining farms before machinery came along to help them. They did it with farm animals and strong backs, and simple, nutritious food -- men and women, with neighbors helping -- and they still found energy to enjoy each other at the end of the day. Music, dancing and storytelling all together was the custom.

As for me, I've always been adventurous, welcoming challenges and obstacles, testing myself; now that I'm old, guess what! I'm still me, and that's what influences my choices today, with the support and encouragement of Dr. Sharon Bergquist, my award-winning physician at Emory University.

Today, my ties with those strong men and women of yesteryear are unbroken. I have no time for regimented means of warding off old age; I'm much too busy maintaining my healthy mind and body the natural way.

That way involves adaptation, problem-solving, innovation, research, and strength (moral and physical). Along with walking my companion-dog Pokey up and down the hill on my street several times a day, I thrive on hard physical work, taking care of my home, making small repairs, painting, etc. and hanging sheets and towels to dry on the clothesline, year 'round. I eat moderately of energizing natural foods, some of which I grow in my gardens, saving treats (bacon, ice cream, etc.) for weekends.

My blood pressure and cholesterol are normal, and my weight is stable, on no formal diet. So far, I've seen no signs of arthritis or Alzheimers, and I'm enjoying the heck out of life on a limited budget.

As I continue to plant my gardens, I use natural materials with the aim of sustainability, tending to save rather than throwing away a lot of materials; one thing leads to another, as the gardens change. With several problem areas to improve, I find that they all combine for mutually beneficial results.

Here's a case in point. On my half-acre or so of hilly terrain, I've planted a variety of gardens -- some edible, others ornamental -- and those gardens keep self-multiplying. On my screened-in porch I've just transitioned an unsuccessful herb garden to a water garden. That led to my starting a brand new plot on the side of my house.

Here's how it went, on the tiniest of budgets, without asking for help with the work: A couple of years ago, after Pokey had had multiple indiscretions on some rugs, they were so stained it seemed they were destined for the curb. Instead of dumping them, though, when I noticed the area on the side of my house was pretty barren except for matted vines, I covered a wide area of it with leaves and other organic matter, then the carpets to kill the vines. Of course, in time, rich dark soil developed there.

The carpets stayed in place until this past weekend, when their remains finally went to the curb; they had rewarded me well with a comparatively vine-free area and good soil.

In the garden adjacent to my front porch, I had some ginger lilies that were beginning to overpower the Japanese maple, so they had to go; where? To the side yard, of course, where they now stand as tall sentinels.

On my screened porch in the back, the pond liner which had held the winter herb garden gave me three wheelbarrows full of rich black dirt that went around the house and up the bumpy path to the new garden area. Gravel mixed in with the soil is a bonus.

Pushing the heavy wheelbarrow up the uneven path to the new bed was difficult and challenging; each trip required several rest stops. Though I could have asked for help, I prefer to do as much as I can myself, with the happy byproduct of enhancing my strength, stamina, and self-esteem! Don't worry, all this went on over several days; I pace myself carefully.

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Mysterious pink flower

Next, in the mint, veggie and berry border in front of the house, the mint and some spreading pink shrubs, whose name I haven't found, were getting a little too enthusiastic, so some of the mint and pink shrubs went to the side patch, spread with that rich black dirt from the pond liner, as far as it would go. After a good, gentle watering on the new area, I loaded the last of left-over pinestraw and wheeled it up to the side to mulch the new garden.

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Wheelbarrow with mint and pink-flower plants

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Newly planted side garden

Creating the water garden required only cleaning the pond liner, and a modest outlay for a lovely water lily; so far, the cost for this entire garden synchronization project has been minuscule compared with health programs I might have chosen. After some more research, I'll decide if a simple form of aeration would allow small fish to thrive with the water lily.

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Completed water garden

Of course my physical work isn't all that keeps me vigorous and exuberant; the more intellectual work is a big component, as well. The first few hours of each day find me watching the news and commenting on coverage and issues of the day. A formerly active journalist, I still hold the media to a high standard -- praising and prodding as the occasion warrants.

And my activist juices lead me to maintain my website, while working to keep social media discussions on a thoughtful, factual, respectful level. That involves research and fact-checking to discern truth from claims, keeping the record straight.

Keenly aware that I share the DNA of my ancestors, I draw on them for support and inspiration to keep me healthy and grounded, living below my Social Security income.

I don't know what the future holds for me, but I trust in God's mercy to see me through anything that may come along, so I am at peace, staying in the 'now'. I know I'm still me, I'm feeling great about life, and that's a pretty good way to be old!