It’s that time when people make New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, to travel more, and to save more money. So we felt this would be an ideal time to share an essay written by the moderator of our Facebook group about healthy tips for older travelers.
Chuck Burton is a retired budget traveler in every sense of the term. He is frugal and spontaneous. Young at heart and in spirit, Chuck also appears young in body. Only his wisdom gives away his years of life experience, which inspires true travel spirits.
Many people in our Facebook group found his essay extremely helpful and on point. So without further ado, we give you Chuck’s excellent essay on travel, health, and age. (Reprinted with permission.)
Health and Senior Traveling
By Chuck Burton
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and nothing I say should be construed as medical advice. I am a lay person who has read and traveled very extensively particularly concentrating on health and nutrition issues. I consider myself my own physician, and everything I discuss here is based upon painstaking personal experience. These notes are my opinions, nothing else.
There is no more important consideration for “Senior” traveling than basic good health. Time is much less of an issue when not working, or not an issue at all depending on personal circumstances. Finances and money fears are often overstated. I know from personal experience that this new way of being can be maintained on even a modest minimum income utilizing both creativity and flexibility. I have read too many articles about the costs of expat life for retirees. They always seem to start with the twisted assumption that people need to or will wish to maintain the trappings of an upper-middle class American life style when living in a foreign country. This is so wrong in so many ways, but not the subject of this article.
In my professional life as a tax preparer I encountered far too many people who waited too long to start in on their “golden years. So many of my clients did exactly that. When they finally got around to looking into their dreams, they were too old, too sick, of too limited mobility to make it happen. That is a very sad thing to see. There always see,ed to be that little insecurity and the urge to make some more money. Henry Ford was asked by reporters if he had enough at the point that he amassed a billion dollars, a ridiculous sum now and an inconceivable one back then. He would respond: “Just a little bit more.” Money will never assuage that insecurity; it comes from some other place. Retired Budget Travelers: Earth Vagabonds founder Ellen McGregor Kortan and her husband Tedly are the best examples I know of someone taking the “time is of the essence” approach to traveling, leaving their professional and conventional American lives at the tender ages of 44 and 52. You never know when your time – and your health – will run out. The saddest thing is to observe broken old people who never made it to their dreams. They died rich but unrequited and I got to see their children squabbling over the money then throwing it away on expensive care, houses and all the other black holes of modern life.
Without doubt health issues can be limiting in terms of the ability to travel. Those with those physical limitations can easily find what they need from the standard tourist industry, which can provide group adventures, guides, Western-style food and accommodations and all the trappings of modern – and exorbitantly priced – packaging. For example there are many people, generally women, who require some degree of assisted living but who live on cruise ships. This lifestyle often costs less and is greatly more pleasant than the depressing institutions for the aged. Yes, a controlled environment can always be purchased.
The outlook for those who wish to be genuine travelers is more complicated. Travel is freelance, it is spontaneous and it is much less amenable to creating that controlled environment. And for those of us who do not require it, that rigid structure is anathema to what we are hoping to experience, an open and unfiltered view of cultures apart from our own. It is not so much that I would not enjoy luxury accommodation, transport, dining and resorts. Emphatically speaking it is that I would certainly not enjoy it and have always avoided all of it. I have nearly five hundred reviews on Trip Advisor, not a single one for resorts, boutique hotels or three star + dining. It is just not my thing. My thing is meeting people, and becoming involved with local life, food, lodging and transport. And the most foundational building block necessary for accomplishing this is good health.
Nearing my seventieth birthday I am extremely blessed with excellent health that most people of any age would envy. I have only one single chronic condition and it is annoying and sometimes frustrating, but not in any way health threatening or dangerous. I was granted the amazing gift of winning the genetic lottery. I became aware of it when I was quite young, and decided that it would be a sin to not take advantage of this blessing by taking the most care that I could. I am my own physician and advisor and keep away from professionals assiduously. I eschew pharmaceuticals and use them as only a last resort. My vision is 20-20 and 20-25, my hearing is adequate and I only use reading glasses. I am fit, lean, extremely athletic and just as quick and agile as I was twenty-five years ago. My stamina has not noticeably dropped and my main observation is that I get up early, go go go most of the day and drop off a cliff in the middle of the evening. I am definitely not a night person. I write all this not to brag, but to share my experience and learning about what in my opinion, helps as we age. The following is a compendium of my practices and my assessment of how they rank in importance for maintaining vibrant health.
1) Good genetics. Hard to beat and a limitation to those not so fortunately graced. Dr. Andrew Weil makes an important observation. None of us know how long we will live, but we can improve our chances of maintaining vitality and vibrancy so that we can enjoy whatever life we are given. He says the ideal goal is what he calls compressed morbidity. Enjoy life to the fullest and then fall off of that cliff. Clearly stated, simple longevity is not the issue or even necessarily that desirable. For me quality of life will always trump quantity.
2) Keep on moving. I can not accentuate this more. Once you stop it is extremely difficult if not impossible to start again. Walking alone is sufficient. Walk as often and as briskly as you can. Walking uphill and upstairs is an excellent addition to daily practice. Sports and athletic endeavors are fine if you are up to them – and I am addicted to my activities. But regular brisk walking on its own is one of the best indicators for maintaining good health both physical and psychological
3) Proper breathing is not something taught in the western world. In fact there is little or no emphasis on it at all. This is tragic, because respiration is foundational to health. You should almost never breathe in from your mouth, but always through your nose and out your mouth. I have practiced “pranayam” deep yogic breathing for twenty-five years. Most of us living urban lives have our lungs filled up with dangerous gunk.We live amidst contamination of air, water and food that our bodies are not designed for. The average person has access to at most only fifty percent of their lung capacity. Regular and sustained pranayam will increase this by forcing air strongly deep into the lungs, thus starting to clear you of the accumulated stale air that is always there for the great majority of the population. There are plenty of resources online to learn basic pranayam and most of them are quite simple. The best news is that you only have to invest five minutes a day to start benefitting. I almost never need to breathe hard. I can run around the tennis court for over an hour without getting a bit winded. Climbing hills I always pass younger people who are resting, huffing and puffing. If this sounds too easy, well it actually is. The only thing required is the self-discipline to start and maintain a new practice.
3) Stretching and yoga. Like moving in general, if you do not exercise your spinal column it will atrophy. You will shrink. Movement will be restricted, you will have difficulty getting up and down and so forth. Simple stretches will keep your spine flexible. Period. Every single morning as soon as I get up I do five minutes of pranayam and then a few simple but strenuous stretches. Why do I maintain this schedule? I am afraid that if I put it off that I will not get to it later. There is nothing easier than procrastination. Note that too many people spend the majority of their lives sitting and lying down. Many scientific studies have shown this to be deadly in the long run. Move, breathe, stretch.
4) Stress control, peace and quiet and meditation. Stop worrying. I know that this sounds difficult, but it is essential. Worrying about something never helps a bit, it just keeps you in a constant state of stress. I am always amazed how worried and afraid the elderly often are. The corollary are young people who take crazy risks. It won’t happen to them is their thinking. To me this is crazy thinking. My own daughter was left widowed with two infants when her husband died on his motorcycle, the last place a father of two babies should ever be. The whole concept is completely backwards. Older people have so much less to lose than young people. What are you afraid of, hurting yourself, getting sick and dying? I guarantee that you are going to hurt yourself, get sick and die. And worrying about any of it will not change a thing. I personally have a deep Buddhist meditation practice, but there are many paths to get to the same place.
5) Diet and Supplementation. There is so much emphasis on this, but I believe it belongs at the bottom of the list. People maintain good health on all kinds of diets. And as far as I am concerned many faddish dietary practices are ill-informed. Far more important is moderation in all things. I was a long time vegetarian. Now I am not due to various life events, though I do not eat red meat, and take in only low amounts of fish and poultry. I believe that excess protein intake is very dangerous and is a prime driver of chronic and degenerative disease. Avoid sugar. It is highly inflammatory and us seniors do not need any more inflammation to deal with. Avoid processed food. It is not really food anyway and we are not designed to deal with it. If you are skeptical of these previous observations just look around and observe the amounts of obesity and chronic bad health in the western world. Drink moderately at most. I see that most people who drink a lot, no longer move and as I said, that is a very bad idea. I enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine. A margarita on special occasions. Eat what you want if it is whole and reasonably natural. I have experimented on my own body for forty years. I know what makes me feel good and what does not. Lovely desserts are wonderful to eat and very tempting. But for me the lousy feeling afterwards is not worth the pleasure. As for substances, I have also experimented with them for forty years and observed what they do for me. There is also a history of dementia and Alzheimers with both my parents. I do everything I do to ward that result off and hope for the best. Nobody knows if anything helps. All I know is that I feel great, can spare the modest amount of money needed and find no reason to stop taking any of my carefully researched regimen. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but why take a chance? For what it is worth, here is my personal list: Alpha Lipoic Acid combined with L-Carnitine. Co Q10. These are for brain health. Pumpkin seed oil, the most effective aid for BPH I have found after fifteen years of trying. Marine D-3, Quercitin and Pterostilbene combined with B-vitamin enriched nutritional yeast ( these are sold expensively as Elusium Health Basis, but you can buy and combine them yourself for one third the price) These three are for longevity, vitality and cellular health (telomeres). And finally a couple of Indian ayurvedic herbs Bacopa (Brahmi) and Ashwagandha for vitality. I use vitacost.com more than any other source. Besides my regular supplementation I also have some other trusted companions. One is rosemary oil. I carry a small tube of water with a couple of drops of essential rosemary oil in it. Throughout the day I flip open the cap and take a deep inhalation into each nostril. This is said to be a great aid to mental alertness. And one five dollar bottle lasts for months and months. Another thing I keep on hand is oregano oil which is the strongest of any natural anti-microbial substances. Just untwist the lid and the powerful odor will suffuse a room. I take this oil in two ways. It will burn your lips and tongue, so is best mixed one drop with a few drops of a milder one like olive oil. Then you pop the mixture under your tongue with a small spoon and hold it for a minute while it absorbs. This done once every week or two is a powerful immune booster. When you feel a cold, sore throat or other illness coming on, put a drop in warm water and gargle with it. It tastes nasty, but better to swallow than spit it out. Why waste it?
I encourage anyone to try out these practices. What do you have to lose? Good luck.
Editor’s note: A version of this essay on healthy tips for older travelers originally appeared in our Facebook group, Earth Vagabonds: Retired Budget Travelers. To see more posts like this, join the group here.
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