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How to communicate with the elderly

The author of The Brain Training Revolution claims that two thirds of Americans older than 50 complain of memory problems. According to the Alzheimer’s Association in Canada, where I live, over 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Dementia is a general term for decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, usually involving memory loss and a decline in thinking skills.

When it comes to octogenarians, there are many of us. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million in 2016 to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. The age bracket of 85 years and over is the fastest growing segment of the population.

I don’t share the belief of younger people who feel octogenarians are old. In fact I’m already preparing for the nineties. There are several nonagenarians in our local friendship club. I had to look up the term on the Internet. When I asked my son what you call a person in his nineties, he replied, “Dead.” Young people think ninety is old. That’s why I’m currently writing a book on “How to grow older without growing old.”

Since I became an octogenarian several years ago, and have to communicate with others my age and older at our Tuesday morning gatherings, I have picked up a few pointers on communicating with the elderly.

It can be difficult, you know, when you are struggling with a bit of a memory or a hearing problem. I take that back; you’re probably a young buck of sixty or less, looking for some quick time tips so you can cram even more activities into your fast-paced life so it will seem to fly even faster – so you can end up seriously wanting to communicate with other seniors. You might file this article until then; it won’t be long.

People in their seventies, eighties or nineties are not necessarily old; but for many of us, memory, hearing and mental quickness do decline, and communication skills require sharpening.

Be aware that 80% of people over 85 experience hearing loss. Only 16% of those with hearing problems have hearing aids – and only 8% actually use them. But raising your voice doesn’t help. In fact, it makes it worse. When you are explaining something or giving information to seniors, lower your tone of voice, and speak more slowly.

Let me interject here why most of us don’t like to wear our hearing aids – and it’s not because there is nothing worth listening to or that we don’t want to hear our spouse’s requests or we’re too vain to let people think we don’t have perfect hearing. It’s because we can hear the toilet flush three houses down the street – and if it’s in the same house, it sounds like Niagara Falls. A pen dropping sounds like a bomb just exploded, and when the woman three doors down the hall in an apartment calls her husband, you answer. (I found out later we have the same first name.)

When talking to a senior, repeat any important segments using different words if they look confused. Face them directly and maintain eye contact so they can see your facial expressions. It also helps if you use appropriate gestures, and exaggerate your frown or smile depending on whether you are delivering bad or good news. All seniors may not hear everything you say, but they become adept a reading lips, facial expressions and other body language.

If you have control over any background noise, such as a radio or TV blaring or multiple people all speaking at once, so much the better

50% of seniors over 75 have cataracts, and 20% to 30% of people over 75 have impaired vision, so keep that in mind when communicating with the written word. The elderly also need good lighting. As we age, our eyes process only about one third of the light – so lights need to be about three times brighter. And of course we could have trouble reading small print or thin fonts.

Don’t rush seniors. There’s nothing more frustrating than being asked a question and not having enough time to respond. The “7-second rule” in questioning (allowing at least 7 seconds for a response to a question before continuing) might become a “14-second rule” for most of us.

Someone told us that a 25-year old learns a new skill after about 40 repetitions, while the elderly take 400 repetitions. I’m not sure I agree with those figures; but don’t rush through instructions, and make sure you allow us enough time to learn something new or form a habit.

Seniors also have a harder time ignoring interruptions, according to Scientific American Mind, January, 2009 issue. I don’t really believe that…Oops, someone’s calling me – gotta go.




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Friendly forests and nurturing nature.

South Korea even has a Jangseong healing forest where 2000 plus visitors per month walk through its expanse of cypress trees seeking healing and relaxation – in addition to taking in its sheer beauty. Described by Florence Williams in her book, The nature fix, the two and a half million trees are said to have reduced stress 53% and lowered blood pressure 5% to 7%. She was told the phytoncides are antibacterial and even the soil is good for healing. After only a few minutes of walking, Williams felt more awake than she had been all day.

Korean researchers found that the immune-boosting killer T cells of women with breast cancer increased after a two-week forest visit and stayed elevated for 14 days. People in nature as opposed to the city achieved better fitness and were more likely to continue exercising.

Visits to Korea’s country forest increased from 9.4 million in 2010 to 12.7 million in 2013, while in the U.S., visits to national forests dropped by 25%. In North America at least, we are not taking advantage of the healing power of forests.

There are few trees in cities to absorb particulate matter from pollution, and scientists found that pollution from diesel, as an example, shortens lifespan by causing cardiovascular and pulmonary problems. Black carbon from fires and cook stoves are blamed for 2.1 million premature deaths annually around the world.

It’s not just the lungs that are affected by pollution. The nose allows a direct pathway to the brain, bypassing the blood brain barrier. (This became obvious in 2003 when researchers found brain lesions on stray dogs in smoggy Mexico City.) After spending over 50 years in traffic-congested, smoggy Toronto, it’s no wonder I feel so much better both physically and mentally in the town of Sussex, New Brunswick – surrounded by forests and lacking any pollution-spewing factories or exhaust from  traffic congestion.

To give you an idea of the effectiveness of trees in keeping our air breathable, William’s book reports that a 2014 study estimates trees in the U.S. remove 17.4 million tons of air pollution per year, providing $6.8 billion in human health benefits.

All of this convinces me that my move from the city to the country was well worth the effort.

Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, claims that spending time in nature can make aging easier. He refers to it as “nature-assisted aging.” I know I feel younger when I’m walking in a park or along a nature trail. And as someone commented in Louv’s book, “It brings out the excitement and enthusiasm I had as a youngster. I know my body is getting old, but as long as I remain connected to nature, I don’t feel old.”

Louv also mentioned several studies indicating the benefits of gardening. One showed that when elderly residents in retirement apartments had a garden view they experienced greater satisfaction and stronger feelings of well-being. Another study, where one group of institutionalized seniors were provided gardening time, it resulted in emotional and mental improvement as well as pinch and grip strength and improved dexterity. An Australian study found that daily gardening was associated with a 36% reduction in the risk of developing dementia.

The above studies may also show the benefits of exercise as well as the impact of exposure to nature. The more exercise one gets, the more the cells release antioxidants for their protection. It would appear that nature walks, gardening and exercising outdoors are all beneficial for seniors – and anyone for that matter.

Moncton Hospital in New Brunswick, about a half-hour drive from where I live, has a roof garden called a “healing garden” with room for exercise. They have found it reduces the medication needed for sleep disorders and helps mental health.

If that’s true, and few people would doubt it based on the research, the Fundy Trail, only a 45-minute drive from Sussex, should be promoted as a healing trail. 16 km of hiking and biking trails and 19 km of parkway with breathtaking views of the Fundy coast should take anyone’s mind off their ailments. And imagine tides that rise 32 feet! Nature at its best.

New Brunswick, now my province of choice, is not an ideal place for lucrative jobs. It currently has the lowest median net worth of any other province in the country, according to a December, 2017 report from Statistics Canada. But money can’t buy health.

It’s interesting to note that young people leave in droves to seek out high paying jobs in the big cities, only to return in their senior years. New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces have the highest percentage of seniors in the country according to Statistics Canada. It’s an ideal place for retirement because of its lower cost of living as well as its quality of life.

I’m not saying you should move to Sussex; but you should definitely draw closer to nature if at all possible. And if not, at least draw nature (in the form of plants, greenery and scenic views) closer to you.


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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.





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Take charge of your health

You might think that neuroticism, frequently linked to depression and anxiety, would be considered a trait that would shorten your life span. But it could actually lengthen your lifespan, according to one study that was published in Psychological Science and reported in the November/December, 2017 issue of Psychology Today. Of the 321,000 people studied, those who rated themselves low on health tended to have a lower mortality rate. It’s thought that people who scored high in neuroticism and rated their own health as poor or fair might make greater use of primary care and go to hospitals more often.

This isn’t suggesting that you become neurotic; but it could suggest that it pays to get regular checkups and not write off the medical profession simply because you have had some success with natural remedies – or nature itself, as I discussed in a previous blog article, “The greening of my life.” We also need the medical profession in order to live a long and fruitful life.

I have been writing a lot about the importance of sunshine, attitude, lifestyle and environmental factors for healthy living. I do believe in the power of such things as nature, sleep, relationships, music and the environment to improve both your health and longevity. But I still go to the dentist when I have a toothache, and owe my life to doctors who nipped my cancer in the bud, performed surgeries when necessary, and diagnosed the diseases and complaints I have experienced along the way.

David B Agus, MD, in his book, A short guide to a long life, indicates that a staggering seven out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, kidney disease and diabetes. He also suggests that there is a plethora of information available in this high-tech age on how to stay healthy. And yet prevention is a hard sell – perhaps because we tend to live in the moment rather than prepare for the future.

To quote Dr. Angus, “preventable non-communicable diseases now account for more deaths worldwide than all the causes combined.” If we took an active interest in our own health – enough at least to carve out a lifestyle that would pay off in the future – we would have a much better chance of extending our lifespan.

We are so conditioned to “buy now and pay later” that we frequently do the same with our health – we overindulge or eat junk food and pay for it later in life.

As far as preventative health measures are concerned, there is no “one fits all” regime that we can adopt. For example, such things as acupuncture, aromatherapy and massage can be effective only for certain conditions and certain people. But there are some things we can all do that seem to help everyone, such as exercise, adequate sleep and exposure to nature.

In my book, “How work environment impacts productivity”, published by, I discuss not only how the nature impacts not only our personal productivity, but in many cases our health as well

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Work never killed anyone

“Work never killed anyone,” my mother used to tell me. No doubt her motivation was to get me to clean my room and finish the household chores; but basically she was right.

Oh sure, overwork is harmful, and dangerous work might cut your life short, and distasteful work that you passionately detest could very well reduce your life span. But work, in general, is anything but harmful. Work keeps you active physically and mentally, provides purpose and meaning to your life – and yes, can even extend your life – especially if you really love what you do.

As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

When you are doing work or engaged in activities that you love, you are not cynical, irritable, and impatient. People will want to be around you because of your positive attitude and happy disposition. When you are unhappy in your work, it will spill over into your relationships with your spouse, family and friends.

Enjoy what you are doing, and you will recover from sickness quicker and are at less risk of long term illness and incapacity. You may also take less medication and use fewer medical services. You will have more energy. You may even increase your longevity.

The most common time for a heart attack is on a Monday morning so if you are retired from full-time employment, in effect you have eliminated Monday mornings, and the concomitant stress of commitments, deadlines and busyness have been reduced if not eliminated. And if you didn’t find your job or career fulfilling, you are no longer in danger of stress-related illnesses, both physical and emotional, that might have occurred while doing work you did not enjoy. Your immune system is compromised if you are not happy, and you are more susceptible to physical illnesses.

On the other hand, working part-time after official retirement, whether paid or unpaid, is good for our health and well-being, and helps us to build confidence and self-esteem. It provides a challenge and gives us a way to continue to develop and learn. It gives us a sense of purpose, pride, identity and personal achievement, enables us to socialise, build contacts, and in many cases provides us with additional money to support ourselves and explore other interests. People who continue to work tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who retire completely.

It’s also a win-win situation with the company when you work on tasks that suit your skills and interests. As Pierce Ivory, Marketing Director at Advance Systems Inc. indicated in the article, “How to improve employee performance with time psychology, “not only will this keep them engaged and develop their skills, but it will more effectively apply hidden talent toward organizational objectives.”

You don’t have to do the same kind of work. You can choose to be self-employed or work at your garden or expand on a current hobby or even take up golf or become a full-time student – if you can stretch the word “work” to cover those activities. The important thing is to retire to something, not just from something. Otherwise you may spend your days watching TV or hunched over your computer or wandering around the house wondering what to do with yourself. Being out of “work” can have a negative impact on your health and well-being.

Volunteering is even better. In 1999, for instance, scientists tracked 2025 Californians aged 55 and older, for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. And those who volunteered for only one organization lowered their mortality rate by 26%.

There appears to be a definite link between giving and volunteering and happiness, and another link between happiness and health and longevity. Dr. Lissa Rankin, in her 2013 book, Mind over medicine, agrees that unhappy people are less likely to eat well, exercise, and enjoy healthy sleep patterns, but insists there is more to it than that.

She goes on to describe the “nun study”, which gave the opportunity to follow nuns in a controlled environment for the balance of their lives. 90% of the most cheerful nuns were still alive at age 84, compared to only 34% of the least cheerful.

Work itself never killed anyone. But if your heart isn’t in it, it could lead to serious problems. Enjoy your job or get one you really love. And when you retire, don’t scrap work completely. It can be a life saver – especially in the form of volunteering.


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The power – and hazards, of repetition

There are many advantages of repetition – whether it is committing a body of knowledge to memory or developing skills such as baseball or golf. In fact a highly touted book is termed the process “the 10,000 hour rule,” explaining that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert at almost anything. That’s how you can develop into a computer whiz or star basketball player.

But repetition can also develop you into an inflexible single-minded person who refuses to listen to reason or ignores any research that does not fit his or her belief system. So whether it’s politics, religion, or your relationship with money, repetition also has its disadvantages

Your brain likes to take the path of least resistance, so you should be careful what habits you allow it to develop. For instance, if you repetitively say “yes” to others’ requests because you don’t want to disappoint them or feel bad by saying “no,” you could eventually build a habit of saying “yes” without really thinking through the impact of doing so. This could disrupt your own schedule, delay an important project or even force you to abandon a personal activity.

Repetition of thought and/or action could be beneficial depending on its use. I can hardly see any disadvantage in memorizing people’s names or in strengthening a skill through repetition. But in other areas it might be wise to keep an open mind, follow research as well as reason, and be willing to change when the situation calls for it.

Sometimes referred to as” habits of the mind”, a person’s “executive skills” are those brain-based skills required to execute tasks – that is, getting organized, planning, initiating work, staying on task, controlling impulses, regulating emotions, and being adaptable and resilient. These skills primarily reside in the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that helps you manage complex problems, goals and self-control. We are all born with executive skills; but they take about twenty years to fully develop. The particular skill that you would probably need most in order to determine which activities would lend themselves to productive habits as opposed to harmful ones would be metacognition. It is one of twelve executive skills identified in the book, Work Your Strengths, by Richard Guare, Peg Dawson and Chuck Martin.

Metacognition is the ability to observe yourself in a situation and make changes so you’re better able to solve problems, build relationships and succeed in life. If you can see a situation objectively and evaluate how things are going, you are strong in this skill.

But if you don’t think through the possible results of your decisions, tend to make quick decisions, often repeat the same mistakes, and don’t think through long-term consequences, you are weak in this skill.

Metacognition is not an easy skill to develop because we have to step outside of ourselves — and our subjective thoughts, habits and biases — to look at each situation objectively. As David DiSalvo says in his book, Brain change, we have to “think about our thinking,” Although the prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher-order thinking and reasoning, multiple brain areas are involved in metacognition as well as in other executive skills.

We all have memories from the past – many unconscious ones — that influence how we think, feel, and react to different situations and behaviors. With a strong metacognition skill you are able to actively examine each situation on its own merit while resisting the impulse to react involuntarily. By doing so you can more easily adapt to change, make better decisions and become more creative and successful.

Since our brain is malleable, we can train ourselves to improve our metacognition; but it takes a conscious effort to reject unconscious and false beliefs and reasoning. The brain is more flexible than most people realize. Through practice you can strengthen any skill, and maintain conscious control of your thinking. You can’t stop thoughts and feelings from popping into your mind; but you can question their validity.

I choose to view the mind as a separate entity that can control the brain. The brain is a computer that will never be duplicated in its complexity and amazing functionality. But the mind is who you are, and the brain is at your disposal. But it doesn’t come with a user’s manual, except for the findings of the neuroscientists, and you must learn how to operate it yourself. And just as we can be controlled by technology instead of the other way around, we can be controlled by our brain if we don’t take charge.

You must do your own programming and updates. You must service your brain regularly with proper diet, exercise and mental challenges to keep it in good working order. Have a questioning attitude. Read. Continue with lifelong learning. Maintain an active social life. Never compromise on sleep. Manage stress. And question your own thinking so you don’t feed it faulty information. Remember the old GIGO acronym – garbage in, garbage out.

Keeping our brains sharp will make sure we neither become creatures of habit nor unduly influenced by others. We maintain our uniqueness.

Strengthening all twelve of our executive skills is discussed in my eBook, A brain’s eye view of time management: Strengthening your executive skills, published by


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The greening of my life – and results to date.

Green fields

I have been periodically updating my readers on my personal experiences with a greener, more active, and yes – more productive life. “Productive” does not necessarily relate to work or business. A person is productive when he or she receives maximum value from life with minimum input. Minimum input does not refer to sloth; but to the fact that you don’t have to invest all your money, energy and personal resources to yield a happy, healthy, useful and purposeful life – even in your latter years.

This particular personal journey started several years ago when I discovered the power of plants, trees and nature in general, along with social relationships and lifestyle factors, to positively impact productivity, health and well-being.

Until then I didn’t realize that plants and trees act as vacuum cleaners removing toxins and pollution from the air or that friendships impacted longevity or that our minds could frequently cure diseases. The more I studied the importance of adequate sleep, exercise and the environment in which we work and live, the more changes I made to the way I work and live.

Living and working in the Toronto area limited those changes, but I originally reported on the impact of increasing sleep from 6 to 7 hours a night, walking regularly, moving my home office to the solarium where I was exposed to natural light, working at coffee shops, and my attempt at “growing” artificial plants on my balcony.

Basically the results were an increase in personal energy and productivity resulting in greater output (mainly in my writing) and a general feeling of well-being.

A year or so ago, when I actually moved to the country (Sussex, New Brunswick) and worked in my home office overlooking a small park, surrounded myself with the natural environment, took up fishing in trout streams, picking wild blueberries and cranberries in season – and joined several service organizations and volunteer groups, the impact of my original city changes outlined above became more evident. My blood pressure has dropped 10 points. (The doctor actually eliminated one blood pressure medication) The psoriasis that persisted on my ankles in spite of creams etc. vanished (at least for the past eight months) and the arthritis in my hands, although never serious, disappeared altogether.

Even if all of this could be simply due to the placebo factor (a phenomenon by which a condition improves simply because the person believes treatment has occurred), the result is unchanged. At 83, I feel more like 63. I’m happy, energetic, more productive enjoying more variety in my life – and as far as I can tell, I’m relatively stress free. (I understand from the literature that stress is an important factor in aging.)

For sure, I am more productive because the value I derive from life is increasing, while input (such as paying about one-third of the money for rent, spending less than one-third of the time in traffic, and spending far less energy writing and dreaming up things to write about, is decreasing.

I will continue to periodically write more about this little adventure of mine (and will include some of the research that seems to lend credibility to my claims) in future blog articles. Meanwhile, I will try to keep on the “time management” track as much as possible. But as I mentioned in my e-book, “An introduction to holistic time management,” published by, the greatest time saver of all is to live a longer, healthier, happier, and more productive and fulfilling life.