Updated May 7, 2013
While packing up my sails and boards for a trip to the Pacific Ocean for an afternoon of windsurfing I asked my father-in-law, “Would you like to go, I have an extra board?” His response was, “I can’t swim.” I continued, “If you could swim and knew how to windsurf, would you go at 90 years old?” Reassuringly, he said to me, as he was sawing a piece of oak board to encase the dining room window, “You bet. I feel so good most days I would have no trouble.” That’s what I wanted to hear – that if I took good care of myself I could do the things I wanted when in my 90s.
Health wasn’t always so good for Pat and Marge Luyk (also 90 years old). When Mary and I were first married 31 years ago, they were both about 30 pounds heavier than they are today. Each year when they visited us in Hawaii, Pat would ask me to do some x-rays on his intestines because he was always in pain. Fortunately, the upper and lower GI x-rays were always normal and after staying with us (and our healthier diet) for about 4 days his stomach pains would disappear each time. Mother-in-law (Marge) had lots of arthritis in those days, which also, by no coincidence, improved each time they visited us. They were still resistant to our mostly vegetarian diet and each time they returned to home they resumed their old food habits and their old aches returned.
Almost 30 years ago, I diagnosed prostate cancer during a physical examination on Pat. I explained to them that it would be better to ignore this finding and do nothing, but eat well. They are people of great faith and decided that this was a sensible course of action – especially after I told them he has a good chance of becoming incontinent after the treatment (might have to wear a diaper or catheter), and had no chance of living longer.
Their diet remained “on again and off again” until the “elephant sat on Pat’s chest” in 1984. His heart attack destroyed the entire front side of his heart. This was a teaching moment. I went to the hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan (from Hawaii) and clearly told his cardiologist that we had no interest in any further tests or bypass surgery. From the day he left the hospital they have eaten, with very few exceptions, the McDougall Diet. They lost weight and both became more mobile. Aside from a few small accidents, mother remains in excellent health. Dad’s prostate cancer did give him a little trouble in 2000. We went to the urologist because he was having some difficulty urinating. After the examination, the doctor told me with a sad face that my father-in-law had prostate cancer. I told him I made that diagnosis almost 30 years ago. He agreed that no treatment was the best option. A little anti-testosterone medication has opened his system so that his urine passes normally these days.
They are fully active and were travelers on our trip to Alaska in June of 2002. In fact, mother cannot stop talking about how she went kayaking at 90. They are presently spending a few weeks with us, as they do twice a year. If you ever attend a clinic with us in Santa Rosa and they are here, you will meet them. Or if you go on a McDougall Adventure trip you will enjoy their company. I love to show them off and brag about their found health. They realize that time is precious and that they will be passing on soon – I guess that is best reflected in the fact that they will only lease their new cars for 2 years at a time these days.
My father and mother-in-law serve as a reminder to me that life is worth living when we can enjoy it in good health. At 90 years old they can do anything most 20 year olds can do. They are also proof that it is never too late to turn things around – they did it 18 years ago when they were young – at 72 years old.
One of their main problems in life is all of their friends have died or are in nursing homes. Fortunately, their mental health is as good as their physical health and they socialize with people a whole generation younger.
You may be wondering about my parents? They are both active and healthy in their early 80s. Now how many grandchildren can say they are enjoying all 4 grandparents, who are alive and well? It is not just for ourselves that we must stay healthy, but also for those precious people around us – our families.
So now is a good day to start the only rejuvenating plan I know about – a plant-based, low-fat diet and exercise. And it is also a great day to help the ones you love get started. Maybe changing your diet and lifestyle is not easy – but considering the enjoyment Pat and Marge Luyk get out of life, who could argue it is not worth it?