As a former Olympic champion skier and Canadian Senator, Nancy Greene Raine shares her best tips for a healthy aging lifestyle.
The month of June is dedicated to seniors, what other initiatives are you involved in to encourage aging Canadians to stay motivated and healthy?
June is one of my favorite months. Depending on where you live, people are already into a nice hot summer, or if you live in the British Columbia mountains where I grew up and still live, summer is arriving and gardens are beginning to bloom. For those with families, it’s the time we look forward to summer holidays or special summer programs for the kids.
I’m pleased to be part of a large network that kicks off in summer by celebrating National Health & Fitness Day, the first Saturday in June. This year we are all amplifying the message to get outside and be active since we know how important it is for both physical and mental health. After the long months where so many have been shut-in, it is time to get outside and get active.
The pandemic has changed our society, and out of necessity, we had to cut back on in-person social connections. I’ve been very pleased to see that many people have been out walking, with family, friends or neighbours, masked and socially distanced and mostly following the rules. This uptick in spontaneous, unorganized physical activity is a change from organized sports that have been a part of many families’ fitness activities. While kids and their parents miss the socializing that is such an important part of community sports programs, it is good to see families finding ways to be active together and I’m pleased that so many of the neighbourhood walkers are seniors.
As a former Olympic athlete, can you provide some advice on healthy aging?
As athletes we learn the basics of good health: exercise, eating a good diet and getting a good night’s sleep. We also learn to deal with stress, and for most of us, it meant developing social networks and sharing things that we enjoyed. These habits help throughout your life and I believe they can lead to healthy aging. I feel lucky that even though I took risks as a ski racer, I did not suffer any lasting injuries and am still able to ski, play tennis, hike, cycle and golf.
There’s no doubt that weight gain makes it more difficult to stay active, but I believe that we are all unique and that almost everybody can be active. Probably the very best thing we should do is go for a walk. No special equipment is required, you can go as far as you want, and at your own pace. One of the great benefits of being a dog owner is walking the dog. (Even during Covid times, in BC, Dr. Bonnie Henry encouraged people to get outside and exercise to maintain physical and mental health.)
If you need motivation, there are lots of excellent books with all kinds of good advice. I enjoyed reading ‘Younger Next Year’ which explains the aging process and gives a recipe for healthy aging. Diane Nyad’s story ‘Find a Way’ is an inspirational story of her lifelong dream to swim from Cuba to Florida, finally making it in her mid-60s. She now has an organization promoting walking, called EverWalk. Another great example of healthy aging is Hazel McCallion, former mayor of Mississauga who, at age 100, is still active in the community, and I hear she is planning to lace up her hockey skates once the pandemic is over.
What excites you most about this chapter of your life?
I love living where I do, in a condominium hotel in a beautiful mountain village, overlooking the tennis courts and with the ski slopes right outside the back door. I am blessed with a husband who shares my love of sports, and with children and grandchildren in our lives to keep us young at heart. I love the way the internet gives access to things of interest all over the world, and that it makes staying in touch with friends so easy.
We live in a time of tremendous change, and I’m optimistic about the future — there are a lot of smart, young people working for positive solutions to the challenges we face, not just in Canada, but all over the world.