EDITOR’S NOTE: Ann Bussey writes a daily healthy aging email for the Mesabi Family YMCA senior members intended to sustain hope, health, and wellbeing during the pandemic. She enhanced this Health Edition by graciously sharing some of those emails with Hometown Focus. —Tucker Nelson,
Our families visited often this past summer, staying in our bunkhouse and socially distancing on our deck and dock. It was a summer spent outside, sunny and warm, making it easy to visit pleasantly and safely with people we love.
Our grandchildren found friends a few cabins away. Every day a little person was at our door asking, “Wanna play?” These children had endless adventures on the lake and in the woods—building stick forts, netting minnows, making rock quarries, fishing, swimming, cannonballing, biking on the logging trails. It was eating on the fly— endless jelly sandwiches and watermelon.
When did we stop playing? What happened to the fun of everyday adventures with our pals? Play is not just essential for kids. As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Adult play time is a sure way to forget about the commitments and stress of everyday life, being social in an unstructured and creative way. By giving ourselves the permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can reap oodles of health benefits throughout life—relieve stress, improve brain function, stimulate the mind, boost creativity, improve relationships and connections to others, and most importantly, keep us young and energetic.
What about an adventure of the day? As the weather slowly changes, going outside with our pals might be more fun if we think about being a kid again. How about calling or texting your friends asking them, “Wanna play?”
I contacted a group of my friends who I’ve known since kindergarten. We live in communities across Minnesota. Moose Lake is a two-hour drive for everyone. We are meeting there to hike and bag lunch. An adventure. I can hardly wait! I might bring jelly sandwiches and watermelon.
I saw multiple posts on Facebook featuring the Redhead trails at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. That’s my adventure of the day…texting my Perch Lake friends now.
Let’s go out and play. Have fun!
Showing up can be simple
Through our association with the Mesabi YMCA, we often hear how important it is to have a place to go every week to be with our friends, have fun, and get healthy at the same time. Members have said our fitness class is like “going out in the sunshine” and a “place to be with my friends.”
Consider now our friends and acquaintances in their late 70s or 80s who have lost a spouse or outlived friends, and now when we are isolated during the pandemic, stays in a chair all day, watching TV news and getting agitated…death by sitting.
We may all know someone who fits this description and/or we may be falling into this trap ourselves. Circulation suffers, brain function slows, and a lack of movement triggers or worsens our underlying chronic health conditions—high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease. And we know that worsening chronic conditions makes us more vulnerable to COVID infection and more likely for a bad outcome if infected.
Showing up is at the core of addressing our isolation and loneliness. It is creating and maintaining meaningful relationships with our family and friends. It is what turns the people we know into our people.
Showing up for other people may be hard to describe, but we know it when we see it or when someone does it for us. It is about bearing witness to other people’s pain, joy, loneliness, validating experiences, easing the load, truly seeing someone and communicating that we are not alone. Showing up requires intelligence, intuition, empathy, generosity, kindness, confidence, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
Showing up can be as simple as a scheduled phone call or encounter with a good friend or family member.
I have a good friend who just had her fourth child in May, during the pandemic. She now has four children under the age of 6. We have agreed to do “picture Friday,” texting each other a couple pictures on Fridays. I find myself creating fun things to do with my family and friends so I have good pictures to share. And I love seeing the pictures of her children. Most importantly, we know that we can call each other anytime especially those times when a pic of the week is just not enough.
Showing up can be this simple. To be fully present for friends and family members, a scheduled encounter (phone call, text, snapchatting, email) and it may have to be every day. Remembering birthdays and important events with a written card or letter is also easy to do. And, goodness, we have time!
Offering to help our friends and families with essential errands and daily chores is another way to be showing up with others. Picking up a few things at the store or helping with gardening and yardwork chores are ways we can stay connected and be fully present to others.
Staying active, of course, is the strongest recommendation for maintaining health. However, isolation is not a motivator for being active. When I see my Silver Sneaker friends at the grocery store or the post office (yes, my life is that small these days), I hear how hard it is to do our fitness routines at home. Me too.
The good news is that we can do fun things with our friends outside, while social distancing, of course. Walking and talking is the easiest and most effective way we can be active and socially engage with our friends and family members. And we can do this every day. No death by sitting for us!
The sin of stupidity
Oscar Wilde said, “There is no sin except stupidity.” How many falls are due to our own stupidity—not using good judgment?
It is about falling off roofs and ladders, falling while changing lightbulbs in stairways and high ceilings, standing on dining room chairs to clean, and carrying heavy objects up and down stairs. No doubt, we may all be victims of our own poor judgment.
It is not only old people who fall. Falls happen to people of all ages and is the leading cause of emergency room visits. Poor judgment is not exclusive to our population!
Awareness, planning, and the insights to ask for help can save our lives.
Age-friendly communities—all year
Many of the cities and states that have adopted AARP age-friendly designations are in warm climates. The question for us is, how do our communities create agefriendly environments when winter is our longest season?
Our challenge, too, is the likelihood that Minnesota’s 890,000 older adults will be asked to continue adhering to the stayat home guidelines, social distancing and running essential errands only, throughout next winter.
We are enjoying the freedom now of pleasant weather—walking and visiting with friends and families outside every day. How can we prepare our communities to optimize outdoor activities for people of all ages in anticipation of winter?
It is about designing our communities with activity and celebration, rather than hibernation in mind, especially important now as we prepare to navigate the pandemic during the long winter months.
Let’s think about the Range communities we live in. What are the interesting areas for walking year-round? Many of our communities have lakes located in close proximity to business districts. Virginia has Silver and Bailey lakes plus the Rouchleau Mine Pit area. Chisholm has Longyear Lake, and a growing outdoor recreation development surrounding the Minnesota Discovery Center with access to the Mesabi Trail. Hibbing has Bennett Park and the new Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine View site in close proximity to the business district and the Mesabi Trail access.
How can we rethink these spaces as opportunities for health? What actions are needed to identify good walking spaces that can be cleared and maintained yearround, have parking access, are furnished with benches and sitting areas that are bathed in winter sun, protected from the wind, and lastly, are connected with business districts to promote local retailers and pop-ups?
Activity vs. hibernation
Our Range cities, towns and locations were well planned to meet the needs of our citizens a hundred years ago. Our towns have evolved over the years. People age 50 years and older are now the largest population segment across the Range. How do we now apply a winter lens to promote activity vs hibernation to sustain us during our long winters?
The good news is that winter livability promotes economic and social outcomes. With a focus on improving outdoor experiences, winter livability promotes, supports and champions pedestrian and transitoriented development, and investment in public spaces, encouraging private sector investment and improving our image as a good place to live and work.
The vision is for communities to celebrate and make the most of winter, no longer viewing it as a time to shut things down and stay inside.
Streets are the predominant public space in our towns. They are more than just transportation corridors. The overall intent is to improve the streets to support and link activity year-round, connecting walking access of parks with points of interest and local business districts.
Design should consider factors such as snow and ice. Good design ensures safety and security by allowing people of all age groups, especially children, older adults and those with physical disabilities, to function more independently within their communities.
The most interesting concept is the impact of direction. Streets that are oriented in an east-west design in a built up or wooded area may be shadowed all day remaining dark and cold. Streets with a north-south orientation, receive sunshine only around mid-day. However, streets that are laid out on an angle will receive the most sunlight, either all morning or all afternoon.
How are our cities oriented? Do we have streets on the angle that connect interesting areas, parks and essential services, areas that might facilitate an open street concept?
When local business corners/districts are mapped as part of a winter walking plan, pedestrians have more opportunities to enter shops to warm up. Creating inviting indoor/ outdoor interfaces with a high degree of visibility through building windows and/ or doors enhances the pedestrian experience and supports safe and active streets and plazas.
The physical elements of a streetscape— sidewalks, places to sit, inviting windows and doors, landscaping, biking lanes, routes through parks and along frozen lakes—help to create an inviting outdoor space during the winter months, supporting pedestrians, transit users and cyclists.
How can we build on our outdoor culture to rethink our streetscapes—promoting year-round pedestrian walkways for people of all ages, adding biking lanes, opening and linking our parks with our walkways, and strategically implementing open streets to promote economic and social outcomes?
Redesigning Minnesota winters—where can we pee?
Parks and open spaces should be used year-round, supporting outdoor winter programming, recreation and everyday winter life.
A quality public space is welcoming and barrier-free, gives people a reason to visit, is accessible, and provides a sense of safety and comfort that will encourage them to linger. When public spaces are delightful and year-round, they support meaningful social interactions, improving our physical and mental health.
Connecting our parks with walkways that are maintained 12 months of the year, creates activity corridors for people of all ages. When the activity corridors interface with business corners/districts, then outdoor enthusiasts have places to stop, warm up, and contribute to the local economy.
So where can outdoor enthusiasts of all ages pee? It has been a challenge during the “new normal” to find places to pee; outdoor accommodations are usually available only during the summer. Access to clean and safe bathrooms and porta-potties is essential when planning year-round outdoor designs.
We have so many opportunities to re-envision how we think about winter, designing our community spaces to include, not only older adults, but people of all ages.
It is so much more than planning for the new normal next winter. It is about creating environments that promote social engagement, physical and mental health for all citizens in our communities.
Redesigning Minnesota winters—what should we wear?
“It’s too cold.” “It’s too hot.” “It’s raining.” According to the Harvard Health Walking for Health Report, weather-related excuses are the most common reasons that walkers don’t walk year-round. With the right clothing and preparation, almost any type of weather can be walking weather.
The key to staying warm when walking in cold temperatures is to stay dry. By removing layers as you warm up, walkers can avoid excessive sweating, which can cause you to become chilled, especially later in your walk.
The Harvard Health Report recommends the following three layers:
Layer one: Start with a light synthetic/ polyester long-sleeved shirt or turtle neck as well as synthetic/polyester pants or leggings. It will pull sweat from your skin and allow your skin to stay dry. I am imagining an eye-roll as you are reading this. “Really, who sweats when it is 10 degrees?” We do!
Layer two: This is the insulation layer. Look for a fleece, a sweater, or sweatshirt made of synthetic fabric or a wool/polyester blend. A nylon vest works well too. For the bottoms, consider polyester sweat pants. Watch for products that have varying levels of thickness for more or less insulation.
Layer three: The top layer protects from wind and snow. A waterproof or water-resistant jacket/coat and pants, such as those made with GorTex, keeps one warm and dry. Look for jackets and coats with hoods that can be adjusted to protect your face and neck. Look also for garment vents and Velcro at your waist and wrists to prevent cold air from coming in.
Protect your head and hands. Look for hats that fit underneath a hooded jacket or coat. Cover your hands.
When choosing layers, dress for a temperature that’s about 10 degrees higher than the day’s forecast, because you will be generating heat as you get moving.
There are a couple of walking groups at Side Lake that attempt to walk every day of the year. My group has a rule of thumb, “zero or above.” For most of the seven months of winter, mid-October through mid-April, we adjust from two to three layers depending on the temperatures and the wind.
We also walk around noon during the coldest winter months. We walk on Perch Lake Road; it is one of those roads “on the slant,” so it benefits from the most sun exposure on a winter day.
During fall and spring, we often wear leggings, jeans or sweatpants, along with turtlenecks and jackets. We wear all three layers during the colder months. We also layer up our hand coverings, wearing polyester gloves during the warmer months, and doubling up when really cold, adding a layer of insulated mittens over the gloves. Don’t forget neck warmers and scarves.
The Harvard article did not mention boots. Boots are key to a good experience. Our area shoe stores carry good walking boots with grooved soles, and lace up for a good fit. We wear winter wool socks and often wear polyester socks underneath.
Most importantly, walking and talking with friends makes every day enjoyable. It is the best and safest daily venture to have fun and stay healthy during this long pandemic, providing essential social connectedness and physical activity.
Winter walking is enjoyable even during the very cold months. As the Harvard Health Report indicates, one does warm up after 10-15 minutes of walking. Even when it is very cold, I am always glad I walked. It feels so good!
Ann Bussey lives in Side Lake. She represents northeastern Minnesota on two governor-appointed entities: the Minnesota Rural Health Advisory Committee and the Minnesota Board on Aging. She retired from a top leadership position at Essentia Health in 2013 and is currently facilitating with Fairview Range the development of a Community Healthy Aging Committee, led by a geriatrician, Dr. Kasey Kapella, and Kelsey Sundquist, DPT. Ann also serves on Fairview Range’s foundation board.