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Are You at High Risk? Maybe Not

By Contributing Editor for Health & Wellness Kathy Whelan

We’ve all heard that older adults face a heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In fact, people 65 and older top CDC’s high-risk list, ahead of residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and people with underlying medical conditions.

To those of us in that age group, this can be terrifying. It can make us feel separate from others, adding to the loneliness that is epidemic in our society, threatening our health. It can be a rationale for giving up a daily walk despite knowing that exercise protects our immune system and despite new evidence suggesting that cardiovascular exercise helps guard against the severe respiratory symptoms that can complicate the virus. The stress we feel from being at high risk can wear us down emotionally and interfere with sleep, a pillar of good health. Even our nutrition may suffer if we develop an undue fear of the grocery store.

As I think how easy it would be to slide down this slippery slope of anxiety, I remember something I discovered about a year ago, near my seventy-first birthday. I learned then that biological age is not necessarily the same as chronological age, and that the former, which is lifestyle-related, predicts disease and mortality better than the latter. Read more about this in my blog article How Old Are You Really?  

This “bio-age” concept affects how I feel and function today. I try to focus on what I have done to strengthen my body and mind, which helps me believe that my chronological age doesn’t define my risk. Do I engage in riskier practices than I would without this belief? Not at all. I still wear my mask whenever I go outdoors and practice social distancing at all times. I limit errands to a single weekly trip to the grocery store. But I do this without the disabling fear I might feel if I focused only on my chronological age.

For those who wonder if they’ve done enough to lower their bio-age, I have good news: even small amounts of exercise, incremental weight loss and other seemingly minor changes have been shown to positively impact health. So do your best to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. And remember: you’re more than a number.

Massachusetts-based Kathy Whelan left a successful Wall Street legal career when her doctor warned that her lifestyle of overwork and lack of self-care were not sustainable. She had always been interested in the relationship between lifestyle and health, so eventually Kathy returned to her undergraduate alma mater Duke University to become a certified Integrative Health Coach, with additional training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Integrative Health Coaching is based in the neuroscience of behavioral change. Kathy calls it the missing link in addressing individual and national health crises.  It’s the foundation of her unique health and wellness coaching for corporate and individual clients. Kathy’s work has been featured in media including The Boston Globe. Learn more at www.whelanwellness.com

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4 years ago

Kathy, your advice is compelling. For the past 5 years I’ve religiously worked out 30 minutes, three times a week with weights and bands. At 65 I was waking up every morning with severe aches and pains that would go away slowly as the day progressed. I still wake up from time to time a bit stiff, but the stiffness goes away in minutes. I’m now 70 and feel better and stronger than I have in 10 years.

Kathy Whelan
4 years ago
Reply to  Barbara

That’s wonderful, Barbara! My history is similar. I had chronic pain and stiffness that weighed on me so much mentally that I couldn’t imagine a bright future. At last, I met a personal trainer who has helped me build myself up to a level of strength – and optimism – I wouldn’t have thought possible back then. So much of our health is within our own power! Kathy

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