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Opinion: Prepare to meet your future self

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You’ve probably never heard a young person say, “When I grow old, I want to go to a nursing home.” For that matter, have you ever heard anyone of any age make that statement?

Presuming that maintaining your independence in your later years is a worthwhile objective, then maybe it’s time to meet your future self.

In the movie “Back to the Future,” Michael J. Fox’s character gets a chance to go back in time to set his future family’s life on a better course. While we as individuals don’t have the benefit of a movie-magic DeLorean time machine, we can at least begin contemplating what a good outcome might look like.

How do you envision that? Have you even thought about it? If not, consider this your starting point. Oftentimes, our only point of reference to aging is those around us: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends.

Some have aged well, some have aged fairly and yet others have aged poorly. Once you determine who you want to emulate, ask them for their secret to a long and healthy life.

People often mistakenly believe that when you grow old, you grow ill. Sometimes, that is the case, but there are many preemptive strikes you can take now to defy illness.

In a 2005 National Geographic cover story on human longevity, called “The Secrets of a Long Life,” author Dan Buettner identified so-called Blue Zone regions of the world, where “People forget to die!” It is not uncommon for people in certain areas to live to be 100 – and their lives are free of Western illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.

What are they doing that we are not? Common themes in the Blue Zones include: A “plant slant” diet, moving naturally, having a sense of purpose, stressing less, wine in moderation and regularly, a sense of belonging, putting families first and a strong social circle.

The message in this commentary is not simply about making commonly understood improvements that you already know about in lifestyle habits. Rather, we are simply asking you to consciously introduce yourself to the future you. What is it that you are willing to do now, at this point in your life, in order to prepare? What does quality of life mean to you?

To help achieve these goals, we ask clients to formally define the “who” in who you want to become, and we help them develop a written road map, called a Life Plan of Self Care. By taking the time to write out one’s personal health objectives, it helps make the goals more actionable as life’s journey progresses.

Step 1. Start with a vision or goal for each decade as you age. The more specific your goal, the better. Make sure your goals are realistic and attainable. They should include a quality of life benchmark, as well as things you’ve always wanted to accomplish.

Step 2. Identify different strategies to achieve your goals. What are you going to do to ensure your goals are met? Are you aware of any obstacles that could influence your plan? Perhaps one strategy is to focus on your health – both mental and physical to keep yourself as strong as possible.

Step 3. List the different activities you will perform aligned to each strategy. Each strategy identified in Step 2 should have a list of activities that you’re prepared to complete and a timeline. Examples of activities for mental and physical health might include a regimented diet, exercise, regular physician visits, preventative care and other activities, like puzzles and book clubs.

While this inventory is not meant to be a medical analysis, it captures the broad parameters for your future health care objectives. Do you envision yourself playing golf into your 60s or traveling into your 70s? The choices are yours to the extent your health cooperates, but they should be factored into your customized plan to achieve the optimal you. 

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to reach nearly 95 million by 2060, eventually representing about a 23% share of the population. The likelihood of you making the club is excellent.

It’s true you need some genetic good luck to reach an illness-free age 100. Most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s and largely without chronic disease. As Seventh-day Adventist Church adherents demonstrate in the U.S., adopting a Blue Zone lifestyle, the average person’s life expectancy could increase 10-12 years.

Forgetting to die is frankly a pretty solid concept – so we make that part of our health care planning for clients, similar to a financial plan. Meeting your future self is an important part of that process.

Constance Moore is a client care specialist with Commerce Trust Co. in St. Louis. Her coverage area includes much of Commerce Trust’s eastern region, including Springfield. She can be reached at constance.moore@commercebank.com.

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