Is Your Spouse the Biggest Threat to Your Health?

I have been working with “active seniors” so long, that I am literally starting to become one.  The AARP knows where I live.  Decades of helping people discover self-care, often in the nick of time (around retirement) has given me an insight I’d like to share. It may sound a little harsh…

Look around the room of my “Fit and Feisty 50+” crowd and you WILL be impressed! There are students ranging in age from mid 40’s to 90+.  There’s not necessarily a correlation of age to ability either in the areas of strength, flexibility, focus and balance.  Some of our oldest students are the fiercest and fiesty…est.  What they all seem to have in common is that they’re committed to longevity and doing the aging thing “right.”  They’re socially plugged in, active, purpose-driven, taking care of family, serving on boards, continuing to work, pursuing passions like art, writing, travel, and faith.  I love to remind them that even on their worst day, they’re in the “upper percentiles” compared to their peer group!

So how and when does it go wrong for them?  Well yes, it might be a health crisis like a fall or a diagnosis, but what I see more often than not is that the illness of a spouse is most likely to throw them off-track.  The next thing you know, they’re missing their own self-care to take care of a spouse: running to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, picking up all the slack in doing errands, taking care of grandkids.  And, more often than not, while they have gotten into the habit of wellness/fitness/self-care, their spouse has not.  Maybe the spouse was the sole breadwinner or perhaps it’s just that opposites attract. Whatever the reason doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  The spouse needs them and that’s what they signed up for–it’s in the contract.

So what’s a healthy senior to do? My advice is look around and learn.  Get those spouses off the sofa and get them engaged in wellness. If said spouse likes to try new things and has a sense of humor, riding shotgun to your yoga class may, in fact, be an easy answer.  However, more often that not, I find that men especially are squeamish about joining a mostly female class surrounded by women who are likely in better shape than they are. Remember, yoga is about the balance of strength, flexibility, breath and focus.  While men often show up with greater strength they can find the yoga combination vexing.

So here’s what I recommend: a little couples private yoga to get them going and build confidence. Whether they are coming off a long career of corporate work at screens and travel or construction and repetitive motion, chances are it has taken a toll on their bodies and their minds. Yoga teaches us the mind can’t truly relax when the body is full of “resting tension” that never goes away–even during sleep.

The idea is not to do couples private yoga forever, but just to get going.  A duet class is convenient in that, even if one person can’t make it, the other likely can resulting in both students getting to zero-in on their individual issues and concerns separately from time to time.  Eventually, the spouse may start to inquire about group classes and here’s the interesting part: it may not necessarily be your group class–he/she may want to venture out and have their own “space.”  No problem!  The sense of community will be good either way; and, you will share a common interest as a couple that will lead to some interesting discussions and even some inside jokes!

I hope this paints a better picture of how “aging” can be. In the West, we assume that old age brings reduced mobility–not so in many of the Eastern cultures.  And remember, in helping your spouse, you’re helping yourself while becoming a healthier couple on many levels.

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