The bonsai tree “is a work of art that is never finished,” writes Martha Stewart in the introduction to her latest book, Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others.
“The bonsai continues to grow and evolve over time,” she notes, saying that when properly tended, “bonsai can thrive and flourish, growing even more appealing and interesting with age. “
So can people.
So it’s no wonder that Stewart chose the bonsai as the image for her Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mt Sinai Hospital. The center concentrates on whole-person geriatric care and delivers services for physical and social health and disease prevention.
In her book, Stewart also focuses on the whole person, distilling the sometimes overwhelming details of aging gracefully and living life well into easy-to-read lists, charts, and copy.
The topics are wide ranging and she serves up advice about everything from eating well, hair care, and exercise, to maintaining a healthy social life, organizing space, and creating a healthy house.
Hers is a spectacularly optimistic take on aging. Rather than dwelling on the messy, painful and scary aspects of life, she delivers a Stewart-esque spin on the challenges, offering ways to leap common hurdles with discipline, organization, and good habits and planning.
Her view is that aging brings many gifts.
You can read the book to gain a positive perspective on aging or figure out how to plan for healthy, happy golden years. Or you could use it to zero in on personal trouble spots, whether that’s a disorganized house, an iffy diet, or the 101 on care giving.
At the outset, Stewart delivers some golden rules of success, noting that whether you’re in your forties, sixties, or beyond, there are ways to increase health, longevity, and quality of life. Her top six entail some health basics. They are:
- 1. Eat well
- 2. Maintain a healthy weight
- 3. Stay physically active
- 6. Collaborate with a good primary-care doctor regularly
The next four center on more amorphous topics that concern happiness and emotional well-being. They are:
- 7. Find your passion
- 8. Connect with others
- 9. Stop complaining
- 10. Stay curious
All 10 themes show up throughout the book, along with insight on embracing each rule.
It’s no surprise that Stewart focuses a great deal on home organization, design, and safety. Such information is helpful to everyone, regardless of age.
For instance, in all homes there’s a potential for chemical hazards, such as carbon monoxide, mold, nitrogen dioxide, and radon. Stewart outlines where such dangers can lurk and ways to avoid them.
She also addresses eco-friendly home options to reduce exposure to chemical hazards found in household goods, like carpeting, upholstery, and furniture made of pressed wood.
Another section helps you assess a property — your current home or a new property – for its suitability for aging in place and the modifications you can make for a time when you’re less agile.
For example, is the home’s layout conducive to aging? Does the house feature universal design elements? Are there walk-in showers? Could you install a ramp or elevator to accommodate a wheelchair or walker?
Another aspect of assessing a home entails safety. Stewart notes that among adults who are age 60 to 72, falls are the second leading cause of death. That’s pretty daunting.
Her house-related tips are organized as checklists and charts that you can use to create a safer environment before disaster–a dangerous trip or fall–strikes. As always, Stewart is practical.
She zeros in on perils associated with poor lighting, loose carpeting, rickety chairs, and so forth, and provides simple fixes for things that contribute to injuries among the senior set.
Of course, aging at home isn’t always an option. For those seeking housing alternatives, Stewart addresses some of the innovative choices, such as elder co-housing, greenhouse projects, and village models, along with resources for finding and assessing the options.
Care giving with love
And no one can adequately prepare for the challenges of care giving because each person’s situation varies, but you can anticipate some of what’s ahead and remove some of the stumbling blocks by getting some groundwork in place.
For instance, Stewart runs through some of the paperwork–financial records, healthcare proxies, living wills–to have in place so that you’re prepared for an emergency, and she explains the differences among Medicaid, Medicare, and long-term care coverage.
Perhaps most compelling is her take on care giving with love. That entails far more than addressing just physical needs. It’s finding ways to create a happy, stimulating, gentle environment for loved ones, regardless of their limitations.
And, yes, care giving can take a toll. Stewart makes suggestions for caregivers about maintaining their own well-being by tapping support groups, staying connected with friends, and taking mini vacations.
Food for brain and body
And no Martha Stewart book would be complete without a few recipes. She serves up simple recipes that rely on real, not processed, food that help people achieve optimum health.
In addition, yoga moves, balance exercises, brain health, and making peace with aging and your physical appearance are all covered.
Sure, few have the self-discipline and the funds to live the full-on Martha Stewart lifestyle. But the bulk of her suggestions have nothing to do with money and luxury. Rather, they’re practical day-to-day strategies that most can employ to boost health, mental well-being and physical agility.