What’s ‘normal’ for an ageing body?

When I stop and observe the health of people around me and humanity’s health in general, it seems to me that we have come to accept many things in the medical field as normal when in truth, they are not. I am seeing that this is even more pronounced as we age. We to have come to accept that it’s normal to feel tired, to have indigestion, to have a consistently runny nose, just as a few examples. And for much of my life, I was one who considered these conditions to be normal, simply the way my body was meant to be. It’s taken a deep commitment to change my lifestyle – the way I am living, eating and working – to now know that these accepted normals are affecting our vitality and well-being, and in some cases making us more un-well.

A couple of months ago I had an experience of another, but slightly unusual, accepted normal. I had a health issue that took me to my doctor’s surgery but this time to another doctor in the practice. He was in his 60’s and so had been dispensing his medical skills for several decades. In the course of the appointment, he examined my abdomen, palpating gently wherever he went. Then he stopped over my midriff and the palpating became a little more focussed, so I felt to ask him what he was looking for. The conversation then unfolded like this.

Doctor: ‘I’ve found your friend’

Me, feeling a little puzzled:  ‘What friend?’

Doctor: ‘This strong pulse from your aorta. Has it always been like this?

Me:  ‘No – only since I lost all the weight from around this area.

Then there was a pause where I could almost hear him thinking and then he spoke.

‘Well I suppose this is the way it should be, that I should be able to feel this pulse so clearly, but because most of the patients who I examine are overweight I don’t get to feel it’.

So, there it was, the medical normal that he and probably many other doctors had come to accept and here I was reminding him that in fact, it was a very long way from being normal. And this particular normal has simply arisen as a result of people carrying more weight than their body needs, especially in this area, and in the process, this natural of pulses has been, in most cases, buried.

He did go on to say that he would still book me in for a scan, just in case. I appreciated his commitment to my health but was curious as to whether this was for his confirmation or mine.

Two months later, I attended the radiology clinic for my scan. The radiologist was a lovely young man with a very welcoming and warm demeanour. It took him all of 10-15 seconds to see that there was no issue with my aorta, but he still went diligently through all the required procedures. He then said that as he had the time he would have a look around all the other organs in this part of my abdomen, so I lay back and watched as he did, definitely appreciating this opportunity to see what the inside of me was looking like. After checking out my spleen, pancreas, and liver he shared that they all looked in great shape and in fact it was clear, he said, that I had been really looking after my liver. And with more time to spare he checked out my kidneys before announcing that I had the kidneys of a 20-year-old. Of course, that had me smiling big-time as I was two months away from turning 70.

I then shared that I was absolutely sure that this was only the case because 20 years ago I had decided to make the choice to change my lifestyle, especially the food I had been eating, food that had been making me very unwell but being in total denial I had kept on eating. At aged 50 I was at least 20 kgs overweight, I had had severe gut issues for as long as I could remember, continual sinus problems, a multitude of aches and pains and always felt tired. I am sure that if my organs had been scanned then they would not look like they do today. I am sure my liver would have been showing the effects of the alcohol I had been drinking and the fatty foods I had been overconsuming for some time. And I absolutely know that my kidneys would have been showing their age. The radiologist totally agreed and a very in-depth conversation about the damaging effect some lifestyle choices can have on our precious bodies followed.

It was at that moment I allowed myself to feel the deepest appreciation for the choices I had made and realised that my body was simply reflecting back the love and the care that I had brought into my life back in 2000.

It wasn’t always an easy process, but what kept me going was the acknowledgment that if I didn’t start to commit to love and care for my body it wasn’t going to be strong and vital enough to support me through my ageing process.  I realised that I couldn’t put off the ageing process but I did have a choice as to the quality of my ageing.

From the moment I said yes to the commitment it never wavered, even in the face of those around me struggling to deal with the changes I was making and at times appearing to be trying to derail this most self-loving of decisions on my part. The fact that I had chosen to remove gluten, dairy, sugar, and alcohol from my diet was something many found hard to understand – especially the no alcohol choice – even though it was very obvious that my health and my well-being were improving every day. At the time I found this really bewildering. Twenty years on, I can now understand why as I am sure that they were finding the reflection of me saying yes to true health very challenging, as deep within them they probably knew that this was the choice their body was asking for too. But at that time in their lives, it wasn’t a choice they were yet ready to make, as I too hadn’t been ready, for a very long time. These days there is total acceptance from those around me of my change in lifestyle and some have even made small changes themselves, without any expectations from me.

But it is not always plain sailing. Yes, I often have aches and pains, yes, there are days I am more tired than others, but after 20 years of a loving commitment to this wonderful body of mine, I know that  I have a strong foundation that supports me through those moments when my body is speaking loudly to me. And these days, I listen intently and then make the choice that I know is being called for, even though sometimes I do initially resist.

I also know that at 70, I am breaking down many of the accepted normals of someone my age, no longer fitting into the box labelled ‘This is what to expect at this time of your life’.  I and many others I know are totally committed to re-writing this label as we know that growing older does not have to be all downhill, that we don’t have to fit into all the accepted normals; we are creating our own new normals.

And one thing is for sure. I will continue to treat my ageing body with the deepest care and love that I can – without perfection of course – until my last breath, after all this body is my best friend; a very patient loving and supportive friend that knows in every particle of its being, what is normal and what is not.


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