This morning, after brushing my teeth, I was clipping my toenails (I know, gross image, but bear with me). Each time I do this, I think back to an eye-opening article I read last spring in The New Yorker. “The Way We Age Now,” by Atul Gawande, essentially points out the frightening prospect of the baby boomer generation aging past the relatively known boundaries of medicine, and how there is hardly any research being done on geriatrics, and how there aren’t enough geriatric specialists around today and how there will be even less in the coming years.
So why would I remember this story? Because, indirectly, it thwacked me upside the head with an incredibly simple two-part strategy to stay healthy and active into our 80s and 90s: Take care of our teeth and our feet. Now.
With teeth, the downhill process goes like this: Person doesn’t take care of his teeth with regular and thorough brushing and flossing and check-ups. Person’s gums grow soft, teeth start to hurt. Person avoids whole foods because they take too much to chew (lean meats, raw vegetables, etc.) or they hurt to eat. Person starts eating processed foods and limiting range of foods in diet to foods that are easy to eat. Person misses out on a host of natural vitamins, minerals, fats and high-quality protein that are vital to optimum health. Person gets sick, develops a chronic illness, and well, you know, the good life pretty much ends.
With our feet, the deadly scenario plays out like this: Person wears ill-fitting shoes and/or doesn’t clean his or her feet thoroughly and regularly. Or, person becomes so inflexible that he or she can’t give them a good scrub down. Feet develop structural problems or virus infection and in short, they hurt to walk on. Person stops exercising or walking around. Person starts to lose fitness. The more fitness the person loses, the less inclined he or she is to do any activity. Health deteriorates. Game over.
After reading this story I got a new toothbrush, a Sonicare Advance with a rechargeable battery in addition to upping my floss sessions to twice a day. I felt like a dork using the toothbrush until three months later when, at my next dental check-up, the hygienist was mystified by the lack of plaque on my teeth. Nice.
With my feet I now make a point of scrubbing my entire foot each time I shower and vigilantly drying them off afterwards. I’ve also become a believer in getting out of my shoes as often and as long as I can and letting my dogs breathe free. As a species, I know our skeletons haven’t evolved to handle heels or air-cushioned soles. I’ve also noticed, over years of reading random profiles of marathon-running, bike-racing septuagenarians or older, that they seem to always motor around their houses in bare feet and let the joints in their ankles and toes do the job they were meant to do.
Teeth and feet—it’s an easy two-word mantra to remember for life, and while I’m not even half-way to 80, I figure by paying attention now, I should be able to give myself a better than even chance of living in a body that can keep up with everything I hope to do.
Over the last decade Grant Davis has been writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.