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The tale of the 60-year-old women

Kate Freeman

It’s quite profound how different being 60 can be.

I feel a little odd admitting to this, but there are days when I’m afraid of getting old. I’m not sure why, except for this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that one day my body, which currently feels good, does what it should and experiences good health, may one day not work so well, not look so good and experience poor health.

As a nutritionist, I know full well the effect that my lifestyle plays on how well my body and my mind navigates the elderly years, but nothing affected me more poignantly than the day I met two 60-year-old women, back to back.

I was 21 at the time and working for a corporate health consulting company. My job, as a health consultant, was to run one-on-one sessions with the employees of large companies, talk to them about their heart disease risk and provide practical advice on where they could make improvements.

Prior to these appointments, each participant would fill out a questionnaire. From this questionnaire, I would know the participants’ age, gender and basic lifestyle habits like drinking, eating, exercise and stress levels before they arrived for their session.

Here’s what happened this particular day.

My first appointment for the day was a 60-year-old woman. She arrived and I greeted her warmly. She was a little shocked at my age (I’m currently 34 and regularly get mistaken for a 25-year-old so I probably looked 12 at the time). She, on the other hand, was exactly as I expected based on her questionnaire. Poor posture, no exercise, high stress, 20 kg overweight, poor diet, tired, unhappy. After chatting with her for the 45 minutes, I had to sum up the session with her heart disease risk. It came in at high. She nodded her agreement and concluded that she really hadn’t spent much time looking after herself when she was young. It had been over 20 years since she’d done any regular exercise. She didn’t ever prioritise a healthy meal for herself and she mentioned that looking after everyone else and not herself was something she had always done. I encouraged her and gave her a few little things she could do, but really, as a 21-year-old, I could not truly relate to her and where she was at. I farewelled her and readied myself for my next appointment. She too was 60 years old.

When the second woman arrived, I panicked and quickly double checked that I’d entered the data correctly from her questionnaire. There was no way this woman was 60. She was easily between 40-45, I was sure of it. Her questionnaire confirmed her 60-year-old status, but I asked her to confirm her age once she sat down, because I still wasn’t convinced.

“May I confirm your age please?” I asked as politely as I could.

“I’m 60, darling.” She replied.

“Well!” I gushed, “I was worried I had your date of birth incorrect. You don’t look a day over 45!”

As I progressed through the second consult it was clear that age was the only thing that these two women had in common. The second woman cycled to work every day and had done so for the past 20+ years. She did yoga twice a week on her lunch break. She held a higher position in the company than the other woman but made a point of saying she never works more than she has to and regularly enjoys recreational activities with her family. She also mentioned that she made a point of ensuring she ate healthily and that this included her family as well. As a result, she was a healthy weight. Upon concluding the appointment, I reported that her overall heart disease risk was low and again made a comment on how young she looked. I then immaturely followed that with an “I hope I look like that when I’m 60” kind of comment before she left.

That day was over 13 years ago and yet my memory of these two appointments is clearer than any of the other corporate consults that I did back then. And I did a lot.

I think I remember it because it’s not often that you get to see the long-term effects of lifestyle-related behaviours. It’s not like you eat a piece of cheesecake and immediately have a heart attack or eat a salad and immediate drop weight. Lifelong health is a long, slow, methodical process that results from the accumulated habits that support health every day. Yet, here I was, young and naïve, getting a glimpse into what my potential future could look like, depending on the different paths I took.

It’s this experience, added to so many others as part of my career that has led me to the place of being passionate about teachinglong-term healthy eating behaviours and habit building in my clients.

If you’re reading this, regardless of your age, if you can create an achievable set of habits that support healthy behaviour and repeat them daily, you can see big results in your long-term health. Stop trying to change everything in 12 weeks. Think about you in 12 years and see how that mindset changes your perspective.

If you need help, then check in with one of my team.

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Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author

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