Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Learning about Aging from Patients and their Children

Last month I wrote about how 13 years after the death of Emily Lublin, a patient with whom I'd had a very warm and constructive relationship, I had contact with her daughter, Langley Danowitz. (I'm using names with Langley's permission.) Emily was more than two decades older than I. I believe she benefited from my attention as a psychiatrist, but I know that I benefited from the insights she offered about aging with spirit and energy.

When Langley and I spoke on the phone she spoke so interestingly about her experience in her 60s (and now, at 70), that I invited her to share her thoughts with others in the blogosphere. A few days ago she sent me this further posting. It's been well documented that physical activity has multiple benefits for the over 65 crowd. Langley brings the research findings down to earth with this personal story:

Fitness and How It Helped Me

To be honest, I am actually 70, as of January. This seems odd, as I feel pretty much the same as when I was 50 and 60, give or take a little stiffness when I get up. I am reminded of the Tin Woodsman’s plea for an oilcan. I hope one day to be able to just spray myself in bed and voila - all the kinks are gone. Is anyone working on this?

Aside from my oilcan hope, I know there is no miraculous fitness method. I started going to the gym late in life – I was 59 and had seen a picture of myself. (My exercise routine for years had been to read the NY Times while doing 15 minutes of leg lifts.) Once I stopped crying, I signed up with a personal trainer for a trial session. I wore my favorite exercise outfit – black ballet tights and a large tie-dyed tee-shirt. My husband photographed me as I descended to the gym in the basement of our building. The trainer was encouraging – she called me “Honey” as in “Honey, just 50 more”, “Honey, what did you eat yesterday?” and “Honey, keep going”. I hated and loved her. She got me started on the Fitness Path and I have never looked back (except when someone’s trying to pass me).

In the 10 years since I discovered fitness, I have tried a variety of exercise, from boxing to Zumba. I started with a personal trainer once a week – now I exercise EVERY DAY. Being a Party Animal, I have found happiness in the socialness of groups. Picture a class – 40 women of varying shapes and 2 guys who either are lost or got dragged in by their girlfriends. It’s like a weight loss meeting – the men are rare and ignored. Before you think I’m a martyr - I should admit that I LIKE exercise. I do it because it’s fun for me and I get to wear cute outfits. Moving my body to commands from an amazing physical specimen just warms my heart – call me strange big time. Many of my newest friends are trainers – I keep showing up for their classes and I guess they appreciate it.

I hope I am inspiring you to give exercise a chance. After all, that is why I’m writing this. If you are just starting, here are Langley’s Five Most Important Tips:

1. Be not afraid to try it.

2. Ask your doctor if you need any restrictions.

3. Join a local gym for a month.

4. Make an appointment with a personal trainer.

5. Try several different classes at your gym to see what you like.

Exercise has totally changed my life – I think clearer, I feel better and I am easier to get along with. Give it a shot and let me know how YOU like it.  All best, Langley
Here's a photo of Langley with her trainer:

In my psychiatry residency, when we overly intellectual twenty somethings asked our training director what we should read to become wise psychiatrists, he said "Listen to your patients...they will be your best teachers!" And when I was dealing with a not very communicative "elderly" man (probably 10-15 years younger than I am now) who became depressed after losing his job at a beer factory, my supervisor advised me to "have him tell you all about what it's like to work in a beer factory all your adult life..." Throughout my entire clinical career I tried to follow their precepts. In retrospect it seems clear that the domains in which I learned most about  life, human nature, and myself, have been family and clinical practice.

But there's always something new to learn. Emily "taught me" about aging before she died 13 years ago. Now her daughter Langley is continuing "conversation" I had with her mother.

What a privilege it is to be allowed to enter human lives as a health professional!

10 comments: said...

This is a very inspiring commentary. I stumbled on it when doing a web search related to our Forum, "Memories of the Way We Were." In the context of "Aging People/Aging Planet" an exhibition by Mary Lou Dauray and Orna Makleff this forum and your blog provide an upbeat take on the aging process! Lynn Crandall,Director, USC IGM Art Gallery

Jeff D. said...

Langley is amazing. She doesn't understand she's 70 and that makes me keep up with her -- almost!

Jim Sabin said...

Dear Lynn & Jeff -

Lynn - great that your search brought you to these posts. I visited the USC website and saw that the exhibition & Forum are over. Congratulations on the great project!

Jeff - I agree with you that Langley is amazing. Her mother, who I remember so vividly, was also amazing in her own way.



Jeanette McKee said...

I loved Langley's personal story!

As for me, at age 63, I'm finding the pleasure of swimming two to three times a week, just GLORIOUS. Never thought I would get myself to the "CLUB" on winter mornings, but I DID! I find the water SO FREEING. I'm not a strong swimmer, but, WHO CARES. It makes me feel AMAZING! Besides being a good aerobic exercise, it seems to help with my breathing when I sing - and, for me, that just THE BEST!

Jim Sabin said...

Dear Jeanette -

Thank you for your comment. I resonate with the challenge you feel with regard to swimming in the winter. Like you, when I get myself into the pool I find the exercise very invigorating, and in some ways, like meditation.

In my clinical practice I was always interested in what allows people to do the kind of thing you did - get to the club and the pool even though you don't initially feel like doing it.

I hope you'll be swimming regularly when you're 73 and 83!



Dr Tamalonis said...

I am a clinical psychologist who specializes in depression, anxiey, addictions and eating disorders. I have found exercise to be the best adjunct medication for all these conditions. In fact, my dedication to increasing exercise motivated me to create a series of hypnosis, combined with music, CDs to help people exercise more and with greater enjoyment. Hypnosis can help make a 30 minute cardio workout feel like 10 minutes. Langley is an inspiration to us all. The body loves exercise - we just have to listen to our body and Langley.
Albina M. Tamalonis, Psy.D.

Jim Sabin said...

Dear Dr, Tamalonis -

It's interesting to hear that you have found that hypnosis can enhance the subjective impact of cardiovascular exercise. In terms of what we know about hypnosis that's a very plausible impact. Anything that makes exercise more enjoyable makes it easier for folks to do what Langley described in her post.

Thank you for the comment!



Victoria said...

This is a fantastic article Langley! It's such a great message, very encouraging and applies to all age groups. Well done!

Diane H. said...

It's not just Langley's story that is inspiring but the enthusiasm and wise humor that she conveys while telling it. I look forward to additional posts from her. I'll just start to think of her as an extended member of my exercise social groups.

Iona, NYC said...

Langley is an inspiration and regularly attends my fitness classes. She is constantly challenging herself to be the best Langley she can be. The physical, mental and psychological benefits have all been documented. And it is never too late to start a fitness lifestyle. The commitment and momentum are the most difficult parts. But nothing feels better than living inside a healthy, fit body. If you don't do it for your vanity, do it for your sanity. I did and am reaping the rewards every day since discovering exercise in my 30's. I am now in my late 50's and I am told all the time that I look great. (I too love wearing cute outfits.) More importantly, I feel fabulous,healthy and centered.