Posts

Last Sunday my daughter invited me to breakfast. She had been telling me about the delicious pancakes she makes. They are accompanied by stewed pears, naartjies, and bananas then topped with nuts, seeds and syrup. This description was indeed enticing, so I accepted the invitation with alacrity.

The Challenge Starts!

Watching her preparing for the anticipated brunch, my son-in-law comes up with a question, “How do you explain your evolution,” he asks. Well.” I responded, “My evolution is not unlike yours. I do believe that both your ancestors and mine started on the planes of the African savannas.” “What I meant,” he explains, “How is it that you have adapted so well to the Covid pandemic? You seem to have even more of a zest for new experiences than usual!”

Now I had to think quickly. What was the source of my resilience? How is it that I have managed to capitalise on the resources offered by the Zoom Room?

So I set out to think about the habits I have developed during the more than eight decades of my time on this planet. And so I came up with the following thoughts

Learning a New Language in my 30’s

“What I want to know is how it is that you have maintained the ability to learn new skills and keep in touch with what is going on in the world during this challenging period of climate change denialism, racial unrest and adjusting to the post-covid lifestyle,” Mervin reminded me

After a few moments of reflection, I managed to articulate a few possibilities. Because of the unusual circumstances of being reared in denial of my Jewish Identity, I had always felt inadequate when my friends peppered their conversations with Hebrew words I did not understand. In addition, it was disappointing, when I attended lectures and missed the nuances of the argument because of my unfamiliarity with the colloquial Hebrew terms that were part of the discussion.

When I was in my early thirties, I was unaware of the present understanding that learning a new language in your mid-life is one of the best ways of maintaining your cognitive fluency. It is by accident that I benefited from the motivation I had for social belonging.

The mastering of Hebrew writing, reading and speaking, by attending a university course in Hebrew, had an unintended and unexpected benefit. The rewiring of the brain that must have accompanied this course of learning, has allowed me to retain a better than average ability to absorb new information at my present advanced stage in the life cycle.

Knee Surgery in 1990

“But,” continued Mervin probing me further, “that does not account for the fact that you still play tennis twice a week with all those young ladies!” “That was also unplanned” I continued. It was three decades ago that I broke my anterior cruciate ligament whilst running for a short ball on the tennis court. The surgery that followed that injury necessitated a stringent rehabilitation program requiring me to cycle in the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week. This was usually followed up with some exercise on the various machines and then a swim. Not only did this work-out keep my knee strong, but it also offered me a level of fitness enjoyed by very few people at my stage of life. Retrospectively that injury, followed by a rigorous program of exercises, allowed me to benefit from an ongoing improved level of fitness.

Running a Business

Then I told Mervin how his wife, who was still busy making the breakfast, had inadvertently offered me the opportunity to gain a headstart in developing technology skills. It was 1995, a couple of years after my divorce from her father when Daniella suggested we go into business together and purchase a Futurekids Franchise. Something I would not have thought of doing on my own, but once she suggested we invest in this new business venture, my interest was piqued.

The five years that Daniella and I ran this business together, enabled me to master basic computer skills.

I qualified for the International Microsoft Drivers Licence or ICDL. This is an internationally recognised qualification providing practical training in each of the most commonly used software tools. Together with this knowledge, I managed to master the basic navigation of the internet, giving me the tools to become an independent learner.

The motivation to make a success of the business was a great incentive to master a wide range of skills, which have resulted in my ability to do research, design teaching materials and enrich my knowledge and understanding of the hobbies I subsequently developed.

The Mediterranean Diet

Mervin was not yet satisfied. “But what about your healthy diet, he enquired.” My adoption of vegetarianism, together with following closely the Mediterranean Diet, was yet another accident. I had developed an itch some few decades ago, on my upper arm. A casual suggestion by my father was that I tried cutting out meat from my diet.

Retrospectively it was a strange suggestion from a man who had no interest in dogs. However, he had heard the dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse saying that dogs who had itchy skin were treated by cutting down the amount of meat in their food. Today when there is a pressure from environmentalists to stop eating meat, I am grateful that I do not need to make any changes in my diet to comply!

Mervin is satisfied

Having offered Mervin a rationale of my accidental adoption of healthy behaviour and habits, he seemed to be satisfied. He had inadvertently offered me an inspiring opportunity to reflect on some of the positive incidents of my life. At the same time, I believe I was able to satisfy his curiosity

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but that does not mean that human beings are unable to learn new skills throughout their lifespan

The Science of Building New Nerve Connections

It was about 15 years ago that I started to come across the research which demonstrated the exciting discoveries of the new discipline of Neuroscience; the study of the structure and function of the nervous system.   When I was growing up I could never understand why employers tended to view people in their middle years as unsuitable for learning a new job.   The understanding of the growth of nerves throughout the lifespan started to reach my attention at the beginning of this century.   I was directed into a new lifestyle when I realised the growth of new nerve pathways are enhanced by both physical activity and cognitive challenges.

Some of my Challenges

Yes, I do sometimes at the age of 81 become frustrated when a new version of my favourite software comes out.   It is indeed a challenge for me to keep up to date with the necessary changes I need to negotiate in order to manage my own financial affairs.   And yes, it is hard work to remain fit enough to play tennis with people less than half my age.    However, I will share with you some of my routines which assist me in these endeavours.

Physical Fitness

It is only with hindsight that I realise that an accident on the tennis court thirty years ago has indirectly resulted in an enhanced level of physical fitness which is unusual for octogenarians!   In running for a ball which had some lethal backspin applied by my opponent, I lunged and fell on my right knee breaking my anterior cruciate ligament.    Being in my early 50’ at the time, the doctor was reluctant to offer me surgery.

Strenuous post-surgical exercise was necessary for the operation to be successful, and there was some doubt in the surgeon’s mind about my ability to pursue this challenging route.    Since that surgery, nearly 30 years ago, I have continued to ride the stationery bicycle at the local gym twice a week.   This ritual not only ensures that I have free membership of the gym, (offered by my medical aid because of my consistent use of the facility) but my ability to run around on the tennis court with women far younger than myself.

Cognitive Fitness

About 13 years ago I met Dana Stenova of the Czech School of Memory Training and Brain Jogging.   Amongst other things she taught me to remember the digits of phi up to 100 places 3.14159265358979323….…. https://www.piday.org/million/   as well as the 42 American Presidents https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States.  I followed up this early training with researching various online skills as well as MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Learning) https://www.mooc.org/

In order to ensure exercise my attention span I have been practicing Mindsparke http://www.mindsparke.com/ for the past 10 years.   My intention is to perform a daily practice of 10 minutes.   Whilse this ambitious schedule is not always fulfilled, I do perform this task on a regular basis ensuring my nerve paths for concentration and attention are regularly exercised!   Another lovely exercise is offered on a daily basis by the New York Times: https://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle

Mindfulness and Meditation

Some time ago the merits of Mindfulness and Meditation started to appear regularly in the local presss.   When I heard how the esteemed monk Matthieu Ricard https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/    had meditated on Compassion whilst being scanned by an MRI machine, I was motivated to study Buddhism, and to practice Mindfulness on a daily basis.   Ricard who had thousands of hours of meditation under his belt allowed himself to be studied in one of the earliest scientific endeavours to quantify the effects of meditation on the working of the brain.   His compassion was so profound that the needle recording his activity ran out of space on the paper!

So now, the first thing I do when I wake in the morning is a 20 minutes meditation.   That is followed by a 10 minute walk with my dogs in the village where I live.

Croquet as a Game for Seniors

I was fortunate to discover the game of Croquet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquet  about four years ago, and now this pastime has proved to be a wonderful outlet for my energy and passion for the outdoors.    Not only does this sport get you out in the open and onto a beautiful green lawn:  it offers gentle physical exercise.  In addition it ensures you learn some mental strategy to enhance your cognitive skills, and gives the player an opportunity to socialise at the same time

In Conclusion

Maybe you would like to research some of the links I offer you to enhance your physical and cognitive well-being.    I do believe that my disciplined lifestyle has allowed me to maintain a level of fitness which would not have been possible without the effort I make to maintain a health enhancing routine.