Senior Toronto blog

September 30, 2019

Programming for baby boomers

It’s been eight years since the oldest baby boomers turned 65. The population of retired boomers is really exploding now. Many of them have headed straight to the gym, especially in the daytime, working out with personal trainers, using fitness equipment, taking group classes. Some gyms have used the opportunity to develop programs specifically for seniors. Boomers have also been flocking to lifelong learning programs. Ryerson’s Life Institute has grown from a small community of a few hundred in 1991 to a membership of over 2500 today, attending over 200 courses offered throughout the year. Some of the other lifelong learning programs have been so overwhelmed with demand that they have to run waiting lists. So where are baby boomers not going? Well, they’re not going to senior centres.

As they’ve done throughout their lives, baby boomers are putting their own stamp on the culture as they move into retirement. They want to be fit, active and healthy, live longer, stay independent, be in control. They are interested in community involvement, but also value individual choice. Boomers take their recreation very seriously. They want challenge and are passionate about education and culture. They want their recreation to be wide-ranging and high-quality, with opportunities for competition, education, fitness, socializing, relaxation, and aesthetics. And above all, they do not think of themselves as old.

Senior centres, eager to get in on the action, have stripped the words “senior” and “elderly” out of their names. They call themselves Active Living Centres now. But look beyond the rebranding and you see pretty much the same old programs. Senior centres traditionally have focussed on the older old: seniors who are fragile, immobile or socially isolated. They try to help them feel part of the community by providing some socialization and light recreation. Some centres also provide a range of support services, such as homemaking help, assisted transportation, snow shoveling and telephone security checks. This group of seniors will continue to need these programs. But it’s hard to imagine how these centres, burdened with the stigma of the frail, needy senior, and operating on a shoestring, could expand to appeal to baby boomers. I think the richer opportunities lie with stigma-free organizations like community centres, public libraries, lifelong learning organizations and gyms, which just need to expand what they already do. That would keep the boomers happy until they reach their mid-70s or so, when energy and health start to wane and they have to slow down. Let’s see what they’ll want then.

August 30, 2019

Graywashing

I’ve been updating the Senior Centre listings on Senior Toronto, and I’m struck by all the name changes over the last few years. Senior Centres used to call themselves Senior Centres (and I still call them that on Senior Toronto). Then they became Elderly Persons Centres but that sounded, well, too elderly. So they perked up the titles and next we got Active Aging Centres. Now they’ve morphed into Active Living Centres. They’ve finally managed to stamp out any reference to the vile, shameful process of aging. Success at last!

Denial of aging runs deep in our culture. We’re constantly being urged to eat a healthier diet and to work out more than ever in old age. So if we deteriorate anyway, as most of us will, it will be our own fault. We’re bombarded with ads for anti-aging products and plastic surgery so that, when the inevitable happens, we hope the evidence will be erased. Seniors are celebrated only if they’re still mountain-climbing or bungee-jumping at 93; in other words, if they behave like young people.

What a fraud. Old age has its rewards but it’s undeniably a tough slog, a time of decline and loss, and it sure would help to live in a society that faced it head on. Instead, we have to confront ageism and stigma and graywashing. Instead of dealing with all the physical and mental and social changes that aging brings, we’re made to feel ashamed that we let this happen to us. So we’re emotionally unprepared for it and have trouble adjusting. We buy into the ageism that allows our society to duck its responsibility to us, to provide the medical care and home care and long term care that we will inevitably need. But our bodies know the clock is ticking, and we have to listen.

July 29, 2019

Hot summer days

It’s hot hot hot out there and I wish I could just stay home, but I have to get to physio for my decrepit back. A couple of years ago, it would have been a pleasant 20-minute walk, but now it’s like a trek across the Sahara. My aging body reacts in strange new ways to the heat. If I change direction, move my head down or to the side, or stop for a red light, I get dizzy and feel like I’m about to faint. If I grab a lamp post or manage to sit down for a couple of minutes, it passes. But what if it happens when I’m crossing the street?

So I’ve learned to walk slowly in the heat, lurching from lamp post to lamp post. I keep my head steady, moving my eyes but not my head as I go along. When I’m about 50 steps from the corner and it looks like the light is going to turn red, I slow down to a crawl. If I start to feel faint, I hang on to something and go up on my toes a few times. The family doctor says that will pump blood up to my head, and it does seem to help.

I feel like I’m made of tissue paper now, one strong gust and I’ll be ripped to pieces. I’m astounded at what it takes to propel this bag of bones down the street: all the exercising at home, determination and persistence, tolerance of pain. I wish I could pass a message to my younger self, the self that used to blow impatiently past those slowpokes on the sidewalk. Give them some respect and some elbow room, I’d say. Those people are tough; they have to be. It’ll be your turn before you know it.

June 30, 2019

Elderwalking

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. If you’re a senior trying to stay fit, you can’t beat walking. It’s free and available to everyone. But if it’s going to do anything for your endurance, it has to be brisk enough to warm you up and make you breathe faster. And you have to do it often: at least 20 minutes a day. The payoffs are great: you can reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and obesity; lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels; and improve your mental well-being.

I used to love walking. I’d walk for miles along city streets and park trails. It felt like I was swimming through the air. But now, at 73, I can’t walk briskly outdoors anymore. Neither can most of my friends. We all have different reasons: osteoarthritis of the hip or knee; back and leg pain from degenerating discs or sciatica; plantar fasciitis; hammertoes; neurological disorders; side effects of medications; vision problems from cataracts; dizziness in hot weather; and just plain fear of falling. I can still walk around outside, but I’ve got my eyes glued to the ground in front of me, watching out for every uneven bit of sidewalk just waiting to trip me up, and if I do try to walk quickly it just hurts hurts hurts.

So I don’t care anymore what the experts say my fitness goals should be. What sort of walking do I need to do? Well, I have to be able to walk for 20 to 30 minutes without sitting down. If I can do that, I can get to the subway station, grocery store, drugstore and bank. So I still aim for 20 minutes of aerobics a day, but instead of walking outside, I do low-impact fitness routines for seniors from YouTube: you’re moving in a small familiar space. Aquafitness too, it holds you up so you can’t fall. Treadmills and ellipticals would work as well, at home or in a gym, but they don’t appeal to me. As for Fitbits and counting your steps, you can’t tell me that shuffling off to the bathroom counts as fitness. Counting steps makes you get out of your chair, so I guess it’s better than nothing but that’s about all. Gotta do more than that to get to the grocery store.

May 29, 2019

Get out of town

Spring has finally sprung after a long miserable winter. Everyone wants to get outside, take in great gulps of air, go somewhere, see something new. A day trip would just fill the bill. Sound good? It’s a bit tricky to arrange without a car, but here are a few day trips you can take using GO Transit. It’s just a small list, because I’ve limited it to locations that you can get to within an hour from Union Station, and that have GO stations within a short walking distance of an area of interest.

  • Hamilton. Get off at the Hamilton GO Centre. Visit the nearby Whitehern Historic House and Garden or the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Have lunch at one of the restaurants on James St North. Find out more here.
  • Port Credit. From Port Credit GO station, it’s a short walk down to the lake. You feel like you’re in a resort town as you stroll past the shops and restaurants on Lakeshore Rd. Just west of the Credit River is Saddington Park, with beautiful waterfront trails. Find out more here.
  • Stouffville. The Stouffville GO station is right on Main St. Visit the Latcham Gallery (admission free) and outdoor sculpture garden. Along Main St, there are many repurposed historic buildings, and nearby there are many beautiful homes built in late 1800s. Lots of restaurants for lunch. Find out more here.
  • Streetsville. From the Streetsville GO station, walk through the parking lot, then a short distance down Thomas St to Queen St South. You’re stepping back in time into a streetscape that has remained relatively unchanged for over a century. Streetsville is home to the largest concentration of historic buildings in Mississauga. Drop into a Queen St restaurant for lunch. Find out more here.

A few companies offer guided day trips by bus from Toronto. To find some, just type or paste this phrase into the Google search box: toronto day (bus OR coach) (tours OR trips). You’ll see a variety of theatre, history, nature and shopping trips. Give yourself a one-day vacation by tour bus or GO Transit. Bon voyage!

April 30, 2019

What’s for dinner?

What did you have for dinner when you were a child? In our house, it was usually variations on the theme of meat, potatoes and another vegetable. The meat was often hamburger, which cooks quickly. The vegetables came from a can. We hardly ever went to restaurants. There weren’t many convenience foods. My mother never heard of quinoa or kale. She worked full-time and didn’t have much time or energy to spend cooking dinner. She was cooking from scratch under stress.

Fast-forward to 2019. Lots more choices now: many more imported foods, convenience foods, fast food, ready-made meals, frozen dinners, meal kits, take-out. More cooking tools: slow cookers, microwaves, food processors. So cooking should be easier now, and less stressful, but it isn’t. Now there’s a food culture, a heavily marketed industry that has turned food into fashion: cooking shows, celebrity cooks, magazines, cookbooks and food blogs that create trends and focus on novelty and exoticism and a touch of snobbery. Here’s a simple recipe, they say: just pick up some black sea salt and yuzu juice, make a balsamic reduction, cook the meat sous vide. If you have people over, you have to provide alternatives for your friends on a gluten-free diet, or vegan, or Paleo. Eggs are bad for you – no, wait, that was last year. Don’t eat red meat, eat lots of red meat. All carbs are bad, some carbs are bad, complex carbs are great, no they’re not. Tuna casserole? Hang your head in shame.

And then there’s that dirty little secret that nobody wants to say out loud: all that grocery shopping, slicing and dicing, washing and cleaning up take time and effort. Cooking is work. And as we seniors struggle with our waning strength and energy, we just want to uncomplicate our lives, simplify and streamline whatever we can. We’re not alone in this. For working people and families with small children, dinner is a daily hurdle to jump over when they’re already tired. A few years ago, some British researchers ran a survey to find out how people really cooked at home. Guess what? Sixty percent of Brits eat the same seven meals every week. One in four British adults even cooks the same meal on the same day every week. Only four people in ten know more than nine recipes, and one in four can only cook three. The three most popular dishes were bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), beans on toast and spaghetti with meat sauce: traditional comfort foods. People wanted meals that are cheap, tasty, easy to prepare and foolproof. They just wanted to get dinner over with. But they had been affected enough by the food industry hype to feel guilty about it.

Don’t feel guilty. Just pick your own tried-and-true favourites and make them as often as you like. Try to choose foods that fit in with Canada’s new evidence-based food guide. Novelty in the kitchen is overrated. Ignore the hype; it’s not your job to prop up the fashionable food industry. And if you want to sneak in the occasional tuna casserole, I won’t tell.