“In the end, long life is the reward, strength, and beauty.” ~Grace Paley
In September 2014, my grandmother turned ninety years old. She lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is where she has lived her entire life, and while my parents could have brought her to live with them in the US a long time ago, she has always preferred to live independently in her hometown.
I went to Rio to celebrate my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. Although I was born there, I had not been back for over twenty-five years. I learned a lot about my country of birth, my hometown, and my relatives on that trip, but the most important things that I learned were from my grandmother.
She is healthier, more active, and more independent than most seventy-year-olds. By simply observing her, I learned some key lessons about what it takes to have a very healthy and long life. Here are the five keys to her longevity.
The Importance of Being Physically Active
When you imagine someone in their nineties, you probably imagine a person who has difficulty moving because of body aches, stiff joints, muscle loss, and a lack of stamina. You may imagine someone who needs a cane or walker to get around and can’t walk long distances without needing to stop for a break.
My grandmother is definitely not that person. She is very active every day. She cleans her apartment, cooks her meals, and does her laundry. She also goes to the market, the bank, the post office, and anywhere else she needs to go on foot.
Because she lives in a big city and almost everything she needs is within walking distance, my grandmother is able to walk to most places.
She doesn’t walk because she thinks it’s good for her. No doctor has ever told her that she needs to be more active. She is active because it’s how she has always lived her life.
My grandmother is twice my age, but she moves more on a daily basis than I do. I have to make a conscious effort to perform as much physical daily activity as she does. My grandmother doesn’t have to go to a gym to work out; her daily life is all the work out she needs.
The Importance of Living Independently
Although she has many relatives who live close by (her younger sister lives in the same building), my grandmother has lived on her own for over thirty years. She manages her finances, makes all her own decisions, and doesn’t need to rely on anyone to provide for her basic day-to-day needs.
She takes care of everything herself every day. As a result, she has been able to remain confident in her abilities and her judgment.
My grandmother doesn’t feel like the world is moving too fast for her to keep up. She knows how to use modern technology, stays current on world events and local politics, and has no problem speaking her mind. She knows that she is vital and doesn’t need anyone to tell her what to do or how to do it.
Nothing intimidates her.
The Importance of Mental Wellness
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has loved to crochet. Both my mother and I have boxes of table runners, bedspreads, and countless doilies that she has created for us over the decades.
There is plenty of anecdotal information as well as scientific research showing that crafts such as crocheting and knitting are good for your brain.
Some of the ways that crochet has been shown to improve brain wellness are by:
- increasing mindfulness
- requiring problem-solving
- improving hand-eye coordination
- encouraging creativity
- improving ability to focus
If you think about it, the act of crocheting is very similar to the practice of meditation. Crochet is relaxing and repetitive, requiring focus without any stress. In fact, for my grandmother it has always been a stress-reducer and (without her even realizing it) a way for her to be fully present.
The Importance of Close Relationships
Although my grandmother lives alone, she has many relatives who also live in Rio. Her younger sister lives in a different apartment in the same building and they spend several hours every day together. The sisters are extremely close, but they both benefit from the independence they are afforded by having their own homes.
My grandmother is also a big part of the lives of her relatives who live abroad. She speaks to and Facetimes with my mother almost daily. She also remains in close touch with her grandchildren and her great-grandson through letters, phone calls, and video chats.
My grandmother may live alone, but she is never lonely. She chooses when to spend time with others and how much time she wants to spend them. She has worked a balance between being involved and remaining independent that works out perfectly for her.
She knows how important she is to all those around her. She knows she is still appreciated which provides a great boost to her emotional well being.
The Importance of Feeling Useful to Others
My grandmother doesn’t just live close by to her younger sister; she is also her unofficial caretaker. My great-aunt lost her sight several years ago and can no longer do a lot of things for herself.
My grandmother knows that her sister truly needs her. She does all the cooking for her and they share daily meals. She also helps her by running errands and performing other daily tasks that have become much too challenging for her.
One of the most powerful books I have ever read is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book, Frankl states that finding a meaning that gives us something to live for is our best source of happiness and longevity.
My grandmother is a perfect example of Frankl’s statement. Although she and her sister bicker sometimes (as all sisters do), when I see them together I know that they have an unbreakable bond. And I know that my grandmother benefits just as much from that bond as her sister does.
These are the five keys to a long and healthy life that I have learned from my grandmother. If you want to live as long and happy a life as she has, be sure to find ways to stay physically active, maintain your independence as much as possible, enjoy activities that will keep your mind sharp, nurture your close relationships, and find a way to provide and care for others.
Do you have any longevity lessons that you have learned?
Happy old woman image via Shutterstock