Do not go gentle into that good night,
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas’ famous poem beckons us to fight against the inevitability of death, to rage against the dying of the light. Dylan does not deny death. On the contrary, he states that the wise accept their mortality: “Though wise men at their end know dark is right.”
For Dylan, death, like the night, is merely the closing of the day. It is part of the natural order. Even so, he implores his father to resist resignation, to not succumb silently.
Acceptance, not acquiescence.
Time pulls us forth steadily. To accept the inevitability of our own mortality is not the same as succumbing to it. In fact, to accept it may be the first step toward really raging against it. Denial serves no one. It only provides a temporary reprieve from our everyday concerns.
What if we stop denying our eventual demise and accept that our own decisions can hasten that eventuality? What if we accept the fact that notable aging-related changes occur in midlife, and that we can minimize those changes through lifestyle choices? What if we can experience vitality as we age?
Among the many age-related changes we begin to experience in middle age is a decrease in bone density. Bone, the living tissue that supports our muscles, protects vital organs and stores most of the body’s calcium, declines in mass for middle-aged men and women.
Women are particularly susceptible to bone loss, especially in the first four to eight years after menopause. Factors that contribute to bone loss include low activity levels, insufficient caloric intake and diets low in calcium and vitamin D. Ironically, at a time when your body needs calcium and vitamin D to combat bone loss, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing it. Making matters worse, some prescription medications have been shown to impair calcium absorption.
The National Institutes of Health report that “long-term use of certain medications, including glucocorticoids and some anticonvulsants, leads to bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Other drugs that may lead to bone loss, include anticlotting drugs, such as heparin; drugs that suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporine; and drugs used to treat prostate cancer.”
Accepting that bone mass declines as we age leaves us with an action imperative – do or decline.
Four things you can do are:
• Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin K2.
• Get enough vitamin D. Medical researchers who study the benefits of vitamin D are discovering astounding benefits to bone health along with the prevention of chronic disease. It’s important to note, if supplements are your source of vitamin D, it is essential that you take vitamin K2 as well. Vitamin K2 helps calcium move to the appropriate areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth.
• Engage in regular, weight-bearing activity. Research shows that physical activity helps build and maintain bone mass. Weight-bearing activities do not have to be dreaded. Walking, hiking, gardening, tennis and dancing are all beneficial activities that are fun. Other activities include jogging, aerobics, stair climbing and weight training.
• Assess your medications. Ask your doctor to assess your medications for anything that could impair calcium and nutrient absorption.
These four “do or decline” actions could minimize bone loss, help prevent osteoporosis and other chronic health conditions and promote vitality as we age.
It’s up to us to educate ourselves and take action.
Rochelle Sherlock, M.A., is consultant to the Senior Coalition of Solano County, an advisory board to Solano County’s Board of Supervisors.