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Friendship clubs can increase longevity.

 I promised periodic updates on country living and how it can increase health and longevity. Here is a description of a local friendship club, simple and informal, that I mention in a new book I am writing with the working title of “How to grow old without growing older.” Following the description, I summarize in point form those benefits relating to health and well-being that could result from participating in all of the activities provided by the club.

Associated with the Sussex and area seniors’ centre, a group called the Fundy Silverados Friendship Club, was started by a handful of senior men who penned the mission statement “To enhance the quality of life for members through fellowship and the helping of others in need.” I joined shortly after arriving in Sussex, NB just over a year ago.

There are about 50 of us at the time of writing, and our ages vary from the late fifties to the late nineties – all of us young enough to attend regularly and participate in the events, which are not physically demanding. We get together every Tuesday morning at 9:30 for fun and friendship.  Most of us arrive early around 9 AM and listen to various members playing the fiddle, banjo, organ, or guitar as well as singing. I’m amazed at the talent of some of our members.

We all wear name tags (with extra-large lettering) at every meeting, and greet one another as we arrive.

Our meetings usually last 90 minutes, with the first 30 minutes spent meeting and greeting, renewing friendships and taking part in or listening to music. We start the “formal” part of the meeting by singing “Oh Canada” and have a guest speaker at most meetings – one who talks and answers questions on a topic of interest to seniors.

We have a “Fines Master” who dreams up ridiculous 25-cent fines for members – such as anyone not wearing a red tie (I have never seen a tie worn there yet) or anyone who isn’t wearing his “Silverados” cap. (Few would risk doing so in public.)

Some members contribute items that are auctioned to the highest bidder – usually at ridiculously low or ridiculously high prices. The items are frequently healthy, fresh vegetables, honey or maple syrup from the farms; but could be anything from 30-year old National Geographic magazines to someone’s hand-made bird house.

The members agree on which of the local charities should receive any extra funds we may generate through these “fun” auctions, trumped up fines, membership fees, and miscellaneous activities.

There is also a tradition of telling jokes or reading humorous poems – a popular part of the program.

We have about a dozen committees on the go so that everyone has an opportunity to actively participate, including volunteer drivers, visitation to those who are ill, telephone committee, membership, program, and so on. We have a roll call at each meeting so we can keep track of our members and identify who may be ill – or simply “on vacation.”

We also have dinners and other activities with our spouses/companions throughout the year, and once a month our meeting venue is a local restaurant, where we have breakfast that morning.

We adjourn all our meetings with the singing of “God Save Our Queen.”

 Health benefits of groups such as this:

  • Provides members with the social interaction and opportunity to build the friendships so vital to increased health and longevity. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die from any cause than their non-social counterparts.
  • Provides an opportunity for involvement at the committee level and active volunteering, which has been shown to increase longevity. Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for 5 years and found that those who volunteered for even one organisation, were 26% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer.
  • Adds purpose and significance to a senior’s life, which in some cases might be lacking. According to research on aging, those with purpose and goals in life reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being.
  • Provides mental stimulation and moderate exercise and an opportunity to get out of the house and become both physically and mentally more active. Keeping the brain active, even if it’s just listening to a speaker, writing or memorizing someone’s name, helps grow new brain cells.
  • Introduces caring into the lives of those with limited mobility by regular visitation, telephone conversation, and “get well” or “thinking of you” cards. People thrive on attention. Hugging, for instance, based on research, is believed to fight infection, boost your immune system, ease depression, and lessen fatigue and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Through the “joke period” and personal interaction, and levity of most of the activities, fun and laughter are introduced into the seniors’ lives, which in themselves have been known to aid in healing and even cure diseases. Laughter has been known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines.
  • Provides lifelong learning through guest speakers and one-on-one conversations, one of the major ways of keeping cognitively fit and avoiding or delaying dementia. Research indicates that lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.
  • Both playing a musical instrument and listening to music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration.

One of the greatest benefits of a friendship club, regardless of whether it consists of five people at a coffee shop or 55 people in a Golden Jubilee Senior’s Centre, which is the case with our Silverados group, is that it gets you out of the house and counteracts loneliness. The lonely are twice as likely to have ulcers. And go back to an empty house after your first heart attack and you double the risk of a second heart attack within a few months – proof that you should seek companionship at all times.

You will also find that seniors with common interests tend to get together at other times during the week – in groups of two to ten or more – at Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s, either for early morning coffee or breakfast. And according to the many scientists, the more friendships you develop, the longer you live.

Friendship clubs are excellent places to meet people who have formed these smaller groups that meet more frequently.

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Growing old is optional.

It’s important to get rid of the myth that you’re old when you reach retirement age. There’s a difference between growing older and getting old. Old age is a destination. Growing older is a journey. I’m not old. I’m only 83, getting older all the time, and enjoying every minute of it. I believe my destination is heaven, not old age, and I’m in no hurry to reach my destination.

It is not essential that you retire at all. The main reason people retire in the first place is probably that they are tired of doing what they’re doing or they have no choice. There could be other reasons depending on their circumstances, such as wanting to become a full-time caregiver to their spouse or whatever. But it’s not always because they need the money. The December 8, 2017 issue of Telegraph-Journal contained an article on retirement that included survey results on why many retirees are continuing to work part-time. 82 percent expressed a desire to remain mentally active, 65% cited the need to for social interaction, and only 32 percent reported financial necessity. But regardless, when people retire they should retire to something – other than a rocking chair, that is.

If you have your own business or are working in a profession or job that you really love, you may choose to continue doing so as long as you are physically and mentally able to do so. Of course there are normally other things you want to make time for as well, which leads to part-time employment. That’s the situation I find myself in now – still in my own little business, but limiting myself almost entirely to the parts of it that I enjoy the most – writing and speaking. Oh, and the odd game of golf. (At least the people I play with think it’s an odd way that I play golf.)

The more variety in your life, the better it is for your brain. Combine physical and mental activity with a sensible lifestyle that includes adequate sleep, proper diet, social relationships and a positive attitude and you have a recipe for a long, healthy and fruitful life. There are other things that will improve the odds – such as a sense of humour, volunteering, connection with nature, an organized and supportive environment, lifelong learning, and so on.

One thing that I want to avoid is dementia. Like many people, I don’t want to outlive my mind. Perhaps this fear is exacerbated by the fact that one of my older brothers died from Alzheimer’s at a younger age than I am right now. Because of this, I am currently writing a book on how to grow older without growing old that includes a lot of information on avoiding this particular disease.

So if I miss posting a weekly blog article now and then, please forgive me. I want to finish the book early in the New Year – and still enjoy the Christmas season. Speaking of Christmas, I wish you a merry one whether you celebrate it or not – and happy, healthy year ahead.

And remember, growing older is inevitable; but growing old is optional.








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A hug a day could keep the doctor away.

One study described in the book, Younger next year, involved rabbits stacked in cages up to the ceiling and being injected with cholesterol to study plaque buildup. The rabbits in the lower cages had 60% less plaque than those in the higher cages. Not a correlation that the researchers were looking for. Seems the custodian who fed the rabbits loved animals, and petted and fussed over those she could reach – and they prospered. When they reversed the cages the rabbits who had been in the higher cages prospered as well.

Animals thrive on attention, stroking and petting; but so do humans, as illustrated by another study that kept track of heart attack victims who did or did not have a dog. Those who didn’t have a dog were six times more likely to die of a second heart attack. So it’s not only the one being petted who reaps the benefit.

Hugging increases levels of the neuropeptide oxytocin, sometimes referred to as a “cuddle hormone” or “love” hormone. Oxytocin promotes relaxation and supports coping skills, and hugging is one of the methods that Gayatri Devi recommends in his book, A calm brain, to calm your brain and reduce stress. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak recommends at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoying better relationships.

There is nothing new about the positive effects of hugging. Ever since the time of Florence Nightingale, who illustrated how babies thrive when cuddled, studies have consistently shown that hugging, cuddling, touching and stroking all have a positive impact on health and well-being.

Isolation has the opposite effect. Single men die before married men. Go back to an empty house after your first heart attack and you double the risk of a second heart attack within a few months. The more friends you have, the higher the survival rate.

The lonely are twice as likely to have ulcers. And low levels of social interaction evidently have worse effects than being obese or not exercising. Companionship is good for everyone – assuming the feelings are mutual.

When you are with friends, you don’t have to do all the talking. It’s more important to be a good listener. In fact, according to the book, Younger next year, your blood pressure actually goes up when you talk, and down when you listen.

There is a common expression concerning mindfulness that suggests “wherever you are, be there.” In this age of technology, we should add, “And whomever you are with, be with them.” It’s interesting to observe the number of people and their companions who seem to be more interested in their devices then each other. Whether in restaurants, commuter trains, shopping malls or walking, it’s astounding to see how little communication is actually going on between partners.

The sheer volume of time people are spending on the Internet has to be taking time away from communications in the real world.

There are many studies showing that social relationships are good for your health and well-being. None of these studies seem to refer to social networking. There is no doubt a benefit, but it couldn’t possibly approach the benefits derived from the more intimate one-on-one relationships with those you can actually reach out and touch?

It may be time to trade a few hundred friends on Facebook for a few more hours of quality time with those you really love.

Spend more time with people and less time with things.


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Tips for getting organized at home

Time management in any environment, whether in an office or at home, involves working both efficiently and effectively. You are working efficiently when you complete tasks in the best possible way. You are working effectively when you concentrate your efforts on the best possible tasks. What you do is considered more important than how you do it. When you get organized and work both efficiently and effectively, you are approaching excellence. Organization is our passport to productivity and time management is the vehicle that takes us there.

Here are several quick tips for keeping organized and saving time in the home. Check any that might be of interest.

  • Utilize space under beds by storing infrequently used items in low, long boxes on casters – or simply use cardboard boxes. (But if you never retrieve any of it within a year, consider getting rid of it.) When storing infrequently used items number the cartons and keep index cards listing the items in each carton. Store frequently used items where they are used. Keep a separate set of cleaning supplies in each bathroom to save steps.
  • In your refrigerator, keep similar types of foods in certain areas, such as all vegetables in crisper, all cheeses on the top shelf, sauces in the door compartments etc. so it’s easy to locate everything. Set up TV trays next to the refrigerator when cleaning it so you can keep the items close by as you empty the refrigerator.
  • Twenty percent of your possessions get 80 percent of the use, so store those frequently used items where they’re easy to reach. Stash the remaining 80 percent somewhere out of the way. This applies to files, clothes, tools, supplies and books, among other things.
  • Phone the doctor’s office before leaving for your appointment to see whether he/she is on schedule. You could probably utilize the waiting time more profitably at home. Do this before making a trip to stores for specific items as well to make sure they are in stock.
  • Put a follow-up note in your planner at a specific date each year as a reminder to change all the batteries in your clocks, TV and VCR remotes, travel alarms, flashlights etc. Do the same for daylight saving time.
  • Keep a record of family members’ clothing sizes and a list of loaned items and other personal information in a section of a home organizer book or 3-ring binder. Include other information that needs to be accessed on a regular basis such as babysitter instructions, medication information, emergency numbers and first aid etc. Include checklists for recurring activities, such as vacation, trips to the cottage, etc., so nothing will be overlooked. Include a form to record loaned items (date, to whom loaned) and check them off when returned. Record borrowed items as well to avoid embarrassment later.
  • Make the bed when you get up, tidy up the room before you leave it. The do it now habit saves time later! To simplify bed making, pull up the sheets and covers before you get out of bed.  This saves a lot of time running from one side of the bed to the other to get everything lined up. Consider switching from bedspreads to duvets to speed up bed making.
  • To keep socks together through the washing and drying process, use plastic discs or safety pins or a mesh bag that you can use for this purpose. Have laundry baskets for both light and dark clothes so you won’t have to separate them later.
  • Throw out those part bottles of sprays, ointments and medicines that have expired or that you can no longer identify – and do this on a regular basis. Photograph any bulky items that you have been keeping for nostalgic reasons before getting rid of them.
  • When cleaning out closets or storage rooms, label three cartons “Scrap”, “Give away”, and “Keep” for sorting as you go along. Keep it simple. Later you can break them down further by separating “Scrap” into “Recycle” and “Garbage” and “Give away” into “Church” and “Thrift shop” and “Friends & Relatives.”
  • Maintain a message centre and a perpetual shopping list – either magnetic on the refrigerator or corkboard on the wall. If you live alone, the messages are for yourself. Never rely on your memory. In fact, writing it down improves your memory. Reduce refrigerator surface clutter by laminating your grandchildren’s favourite art projects and using them as place mats.
  • If you clip coupons, highlight the expiration dates and keep them in an envelope marked “Coupons.” Keep them with things you use when you go shopping, such as a cloth shopping bag, bundle buggy or car keys.
  • Rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher directly from the table before the food dries on them. Similarly unpack groceries directly into the cupboards instead of unpacking them onto the cupboard.
  • Make up a spare set of keys, everything from car key and house key to locker, office and cottage and leave them with a close friend–one you don’t mind calling in the middle of the night. Photocopy or photograph birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, etc., and keep them in your files. You may also need to use the copies in an urgent situation.
  • Prepare for the next morning before you retire for the night by setting the breakfast table, selecting clothes to wear, packing your computer bag, etc. Near the front door, post a checklist of items to be purchased and errands to be completed the next day.
  • If you have different sized sheets, buy them in different colours or distinctive patterns for easy sorting. To prevent having to dig through the linen closet to retrieve matching sheets and pillowcases, store the folded flat sheet, fitted sheet and pillowcase inside the second pillowcase.
  • If you have a habit of misplacing frequently used items such as eyeglasses or keys, establish a home base for each of them, and get in the habit of returning each item to its home base when not in use. For example, a key rack on the wall, a holder for eyeglasses on the coffee table, etc.  It would also be a good idea to have spares of these items “just in case.” If you have a home with different keys for the front door, side door, storage shed etc. consider having a locksmith make them all uniform, then one key is all you need.
  • Have one junk drawer only. Use organizing trays in the other drawers to house specific items. Have a place for everything. Set up a home filing system. Keep one file for income tax receipts and other files on major categories, such as Family, Bank Accounts, Investments, Legal, Repairs, etc. Don’t put letters, bills etc. back in the envelopes once you have read them. Keep them unfolded, staple the pages together, and place them in an action tray.
  • Store empty clothes hangers to one side of the closet and use them as required. Don’t let them mix with used ones. Always have the season’s clothes dry cleaned before you store them away for the next season. Use cup hooks or picture hangers to hang necklaces and chains at the side of the closet. Use a pocket shoe rack that hangs from a door to store small items that you use frequently.
  • When cleaning house, tackle those important, high-traffic areas first. Attach an extension cord to your vacuum cleaner so you don’t have to continually change outlets. Keep several garbage bags at the bottom of your garbage can so you don’t have to look for fresh bags when you take out the garbage. Keep a radio in the bathroom or kitchen to catch up on the news while you’re cleaning or preparing for the day ahead. Buy a radio that is safe for the bathroom.
  • Remove clothes from the dryer as soon as it stops and hang or fold them to prevent wrinkling. (If you forget, throw a damp towel into the dryer and turn it on for another five minutes.) When you wash the bed sheets, return them to the same bed, rather than wash, fold and put them away. You also give the bed a chance to air out.